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U.S. - Canada Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Expected To Begin In Early 2018
Posted on Friday, December 08, 2017 (PST)

It appears negotiations between the United States and Canada on the Columbia River Treaty will begin soon.


A media note this week from the U.S. State Department says the United States and Canada “will begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018. Certain provisions of the Treaty—a model of transboundary natural resource cooperation since 1964—are set to expire in 2024.


“The Columbia River’s drainage basin is roughly the size of France and includes parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and British Columbia. The Treaty’s flood risk and hydropower operations provide substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border. The Treaty has also facilitated additional benefits such as supporting the river’s ecosystem, irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation,” said the note


The treaty optimizes flood management and power generation, requiring coordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River on both sides of the border.


As a direct result of the treaty, four storage dams were built: Mica, Arrow and Duncan dams in British Columbia, Canada; and Libby Dam in Montana. The Columbia’s headwaters are in British Columbia. The river flows south into Washington, then west along the Oregon-Washington border to the Pacific. Tributaries from British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming feed the Columbia-Snake river system.


These four projects more than doubled the storage capacity of the Columbia River system, increased control of the river flow, thereby decreasing the risk of major flooding events downstream, and provided opportunities for releasing water at times needed for power generation and other downstream benefits such as fisheries and water supply.


In late October, the State Department announced that Jill Smail will be the new Columbia River Treaty negotiator for the department, replacing Brian Doherty.


From 2009-September 2017, she served as the Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for Environment, Science, Technology, and Health, with a focus on Middle East water negotiations and programs.  She worked with Middle East negotiating teams on water issues related to a final status agreement and managed programs to facilitate greater cooperation among the parties in watershed management, research, desalination, infrastructure development, and agriculture. 


Smail’s previous assignments at the U.S. Department of State include serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan and negotiating small arms and light weapons destruction projects in post-conflict regions in Southeast Europe, Africa, and Asia.  She joined the U.S. Department of State in 2001.


The CRT, a trans-boundary water management agreement, was signed in 1961 and ratified in 1964.


The treaty has no specified expiration date. Either Canada or the United States can unilaterally terminate the Columbia River Treaty any time after Sept. 16, 2024, provided written notice is filed at least 10 years in advance.


This suggests a “notice date” of Sept 16, 2014, but notice could have been done earlier and can be done later.


Both British Columbia and the United States are considering options to determine whether or not to give notice. Regardless, Assured Annual Flood Control expires automatically in 2024 and converts in 2024 to a Called Upon operation of Canadian storage space as may be needed by the United States for flood risk management


For more information on the Columbia River Treaty go to the Columbia River Treaty 2014/2024 website managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration.


Also see:


-- CBB, October 27, 2017, “U.S. State Department Picks New Columbia River Treaty Negotiator,”


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