new report examines the
potential economic costs and benefits in changing dam operations to mimic
natural river flows in the Columbia Basin.
The report was commissioned by the Columbia Basin Tribes Coalition, which includes 15 tribes and three inter-tribal commissions -- Upper Columbia United Tribes, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and Upper Snake River Tribes. Pacific Rivers, Save Our Wild Salmon, and Waterwatch of Oregon also sponsored the report.
tribal alliance hired Tacoma-based Earth Economics to conduct the study, which
led to a recently released, 150-page report.
Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin: A Comprehensive Analysis”
can be found at https://ucut.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/CRBV-FINAL-DIGITAL.pdf
study takes two approaches for modeled river management: a “current conditions”
scenario, and a “modernized Columbia River Treaty ecosystem function.” The
latter focuses on the potential future value of the Columbia River Basin if
river operations were modified mainly by augmenting spring and early summer
river flows with reservoir storage.
the CRB, past and current economic practices have developed and operated built
capital assets while undervaluing or entirely disregarding, natural capital
assets. Yet, natural capital assets provide the region with essential goods and
services such as sustainable food, jobs, recreation, clean water, and carbon
sequestration, among many others,” the report states.
Columbia River Treaty assessments continue and U.S. domestic decision making
processing ensue, it is essential that sustainable natural capital value be
given serious consideration in actions that affect river management.”
report illustrates and documents the immense economic value of the Columbia
River Basin’s natural assets and provides clear evidence of the increased value
that can be gained by addressing ecosystem-based function in a modernized CRB
management,” the report’s executive summary states.
report makes big predictions, saying it is aimed at stabilizing river flows, reservoirs,
providing restoration of fish populations and increasing the regional economic
value of the basin. The study states that hydropower generation would be
reduced by $69 million from its present value of almost $3 billion, but the new
management model would increase the total CRB economic value by about $1.5
hydropower decline would be mitigated by other enhanced benefits, such as a
non-tribal commercial fishery that would
increase in value by $7 million per year. General recreation is expected to
experience a slight increase of $39,000, while angling value would increase by
new management approach, if enacted, would increase spring and early summer
water flows and would be valued at $389 million, and nutrient enhancement could
reach an estimated value of $31 million.
tribal alliance is working to dovetail changes with a new U.S.-Canada Columbia
River Treaty that is being shaped to emphasize “ecosystem function,” or
managing the system to match natural flow regimes. The concept is largely built
off a Variable Flow (VARQ) approach to dam operations that was championed by
the State of Montana starting in the late 1990s. That approach, when it was
adopted, was aimed at curbing entirely unnatural flows, such as mid-summer flow
augmentation calls on water for the benefit of salmon in the lower basin.
prevailed in court partly by demonstrating that flow augmentation from Hungry
Horse Dam and Libby Dam could not be adequately measured to show fisheries benefits
at the Dalles Dam.
is still the case at The Dalles and other dams in the basin, said Brian Marotz,
the hydropower mitigation coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
could release a lot of water but when it goes through the next set of
downstream reservoirs…it’s very difficult to measure because it’s so stretched
out,” said Marotz, who was a leader in establishing VARQ in Montana.
is partly what the tribes are seeking at other hydro
projects, along with “rolling back” the most conservative Flood Risk Management
approaches that can lead to empty reservoirs because high inflows never
materialize during the spring runoff. The new approach would focus on
individual dams striving to manage flood control on immediate downstream
(river) branch differs. One could be at flood stage, one could be at drought
stage. “If there’s a gully washer in one drainage, you could be managing local
flood risk management for waters downstream from a dam.
risk management is one of the greatest impediments to ecosystem function,” said
Marotz, who has been working with the tribes on their preferred approach.
Ecosystem function is a Columbia River Treaty term that translates to natural
flows, or the VARQ approach.
we’re trying to do is implement VARQ-like operations at more projects in the
Columbia, even if they don’t have a lot of storage,” he said.
as the report puts it: “If the Columbia River basin were to see even a 10
percent increase in ecosystem-based function, it could add $19 billion to the
total natural capital value.”
in Canada and the U.S. are still conducting assessments of the Columbia River Treaty. The
current treaty expires in 2024, and must ultimately be approved by the U.S.
State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
CBB, June 23, 2017, “Northwest U.S. House Members Urge Administration To
Renegotiate Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439143.aspx