Negotiations with Canada over a revised
Columbia River Treaty got off to a good start this week, said senior U.S.
government officials involved, but they were tight-lipped about specific
negotiating positions or areas of contention that might arise as talks
“We just wrapped up two very productive days
of negotiations with Canada,” said one official, adding that talks at the U.S.
State Department in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and Wednesday largely involved
the two countries laying out their respective objectives, outlining the scope
of the negotiations and reaffirming the spirt of cooperation that has made the
treaty an international model for transboundary water agreements since it was
adopted in 1964.
Francisco Palmieri, the acting assistant
secretary of State, opened the negotiations and issued a statement referring to
the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty regime.
“There is a whole swath of arrangements
established under this durable yet flexible treaty that should be modernized,”
he said. “In both countries, our understanding of the river and the basin has
changed since the development of the transboundary system treaty dams in
British Columbia and one in Montana.”
Palmieri said he refers to the treaty “regime”
as shorthand for the “myriad technical mechanisms and arrangements that
translate the agreement into day-to-day realities. It is in these details where
the United States wants to see improvements.”
He said the U.S. objectives include continued,
careful management of flood risk; ensuring a reliable and economical power
supply; and better addressing ecosystem concerns.
But when asked for more details about U.S. and
Canadian positions, an official participating in Thursday’s teleconference
said, “I’m not going to go into our specific negotiating positions.”
“We are in the early stages right now … We are
just laying out what our future objectives are at this point,” she added.
Asked about whether the Trump Administration’s
actions on re-negotiating NAFTA, steel and aluminum tariffs, softwood lumber
trade, dairy trade and other commerce could hamper or overshadow treaty
negotiations, the official said “we have no indication that these negotiations
will be impacted.”
Difficult matters that are expected by many to
possibly arise include a call for re-opening salmon habitat in the Upper Basin
that has been blocked by dams for decades, increasing flows on the 1,200-mile Columbia
River to benefit migrating salmon, and the so-called “Canadian Entitlement”
that provides Canada with electrical power valued at $250 million to $350
million a year in exchange for storing water for flood control and hydro
generation in three Canadian reservoirs created by dams that resulted from the
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., has
pointed to estimates that the entitlement payments are worth 10 times the
reciprocal benefits Canada provides, and those payments affect utility bills of
6.4 million customers in the Pacific Northwest.
Other members of Congress have weighed in with
statements about the importance of the treaty talks getting underway.
“The Columbia River Treaty is integral to so
much of the Pacific Northwest way of life — from our economy, to our
environment, to our culture and heritage — it’s hard to overstate the
importance of updating this treaty to meet modern-day issues and getting this
right,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “I applaud the U.S. Department of State
for the extensive preparation and time already invested in the upcoming
negotiations, and I look forward to productive conversation and action that
benefits every party involved in this critically important pact.”
“This is a very positive step,” said Washington
Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources. “The State Department and Canada must now work to include
input from all parties.”
Not all parties are pleased with the treaty
negotiation process: Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations in Canada have
expressed their displeasure for not having a seat at the negotiating table.
Dr. Micheal Marchand, chairman of the
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington, said 15 Indian
Nations have been “apparently excluded” from a negotiating team that includes
representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of
Interior, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. State Department.
“These tribes need and deserve to have
meaningful input into the treaty re-negotiation process,” he said. “This is a
necessary and important negotiation which will affect all of us and Columbia
River Tribes should have representation at these talks.”
He said the Columbia River has for centuries
been crucial to the economies, subsistence and cultures of the tribes and
remain so to this day, after dams blocked all passage of salmon to the Upper
“The U.S. government has routinely adopted
policies and made decisions that were destructive to the health of the
Columbia, disastrous for its fish, and detrimental to Columbia River Basin
tribal cultures and traditions,” Marchand said. “This river was the center of
native trade and commerce, and a touchstone for our cultures and traditions.”
Those participating in Thursday’s
tele-conference reiterated their view that tribes have been consulted in
developing a U.S. “consensus” guide and a regional recommendation that came out
As Palmieri put it in his statement: “The U.S.
negotiating team deeply values the expertise and experience of the tribes and
will continue to consult with them on a regular basis as negotiations proceed.
We are committed to keeping our American partners informed of our progress on a
regular basis as negotiations proceed.”
The Canadian federal government is getting
similar criticism from First Nations: the Okanagan, Shuswap and Ktunaxa nations
recently expressed outrage at being excluded from the negotiations, with blame
being directed at Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“This completely unexpected and shocking
unilateral decision by Minister Freeland to exclude indigenous nations is an
act of absolute treachery,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the
Union BC Indian Chiefs and chairman of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.
“This is a fundamental betrayal of our three
Nations’ indigenous rights; it undermines recognition and threatens the
reconciliation path that Prime Minister Trudeau has so boldly championed.”
But British Columbia media reported on a
statement issued by Global Affairs Canada, claiming the government has been
actively seeking input from First Nations regarding the treaty and will
continue to be engaged with First Nations.
“Our conversations with these three First
Nations will absolutely continue throughout the duration of these negotiations.
We are committed to ensuring their voices and perspectives are heard and at the
center of our negotiating priorities,” the statement reads.
Global Affairs Canada has proposed creating a
negotiating advisory team along with developing a framework to integrate advice
and input from First Nations, and setting aside federal funds to pay for First
Nation travel and participation throughout the negotiations.
The next round of closed negotiation is
scheduled for Aug. 15-16 in British Columbia. The U.S. negotiating team has
said public updates on significant developments will be provided.
Information on the U.S. Entity Regional
Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty After 2024, which
was published in December of 2013, can be found at:
For background see:
-- CBB, April 27, 2018, “State Department
Holds Town Hall On Negotiations With Canada For Modernized Columbia River
-- CBB, Dec. 8, 2017, “U.S. - Canada Columbia
River Treaty Negotiations Expected To Begin In Early 2018” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439924.aspx
-- CBB, Oct. 27, 2017, “U.S. State Department
Picks New Columbia River Treaty Negotiator” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439784.aspx
-- CBB, March 21, 2014, “British Columbia
Announces Decision To Continue Columbia River Treaty While Seeking
-- CBB, Dec. 20, 2013, “Final Recommendations
For Revising Columbia River Treaty With Canada Sent To State Department,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429315.aspx
-- CBB, Nov. 27, 2013, “Columbia River Treaty
Prompts Discussion Of Restoring Salmon Passage To Canadian Headwaters” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429144.aspx
-- CBB, Oct. 18, 2013, “B.C. Releases Draft
Columbia River Treaty Recommendations, Wants Full Accounting Of U.S. Benefits,”