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Lead Diplomat For U.S. Sizes Up Ongoing Columbia River Treaty Negotiations
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 (PST)

Negotiations to renew the 1964 Columbia River Treaty with Canada are proceeding smoothly, following most recent talks in Portland Oct. 17-18, says the lead negotiator for the U.S. State Department.


“While I can’t get into specifics of the ongoing negotiations I can say there were conversations that were productive and that we’re working well together,” said Jill Smail, the State Department veteran who was tapped to lead a U.S. negotiating team last fall. The team includes representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Interior.


The State Department recently issued a pod-cast interview with Smail, who sized up the overall negotiation picture, reiterating the main points of the United States for modernizing a Columbia River Treaty “regime.” To listen to her interview and access the readout, go to


“We think the treaty has been tremendously successful,” Smail said. “After 50 years, we see areas that can be improved.”


One issue, Smail pointed out, is that after 2024 the flood risk management terms between the U.S. and Canada will change.


“By modernizing the Columbia River Treaty regime, we seek continued careful management of flood risk. We also want to ensure reliable and economical power supply to ensure ecosystem benefits.”


Those have been the consistent positions of the United States since the first round of negotiations were held in Washington, D.C. in May. The next round of negotiations will take place December 12-13, in Vancouver, Canada.


Smail explained the “regime” concept as being not only the treaty, but the various directives and policies that are used to implement the treaty, with transboundary cooperation.


Smail addressed one touchy topic, persistent complaints from Native American tribes and Canadian First Nations about being excluded from the formal negotiation teams. While no tribal members are part of the U.S. negotiating team, Smail contends the federal government has been proactively soliciting input from the tribes.


She said a decision was made that “the best way to balance the U.S objectives to conclude a successful agreement with Canada in a timely manner is to limit the negotiating team to a small team of federal agencies.


“We value the expertise, experience and input of the tribes,” Smail added. “The Department of State has maintained regular contact and communication with them on developments related to modernization of the Columbia River Treaty regime,” ever since a regional recommendation was submitted in 2013. The regional recommendations were developed through public comment and input from state, local and federal agencies.


“We’re working with them,” Smail said, referring to Pacific Northwest tribes.


As negotiations continue (Dec. 12-13), the U.S. negotiating team will continue to hold regular Town Halls throughout the Columbia River Basin to hear from the U.S. public on the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty regime. The last Town Hall took place September 6 in Portland, Ore., and the next one is planned for early 2019.


A U.S. “Entity,” made up of private, tribal, state and local representatives, forwarded its recommendation concerning the future of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada to the U.S. Department of State on December 13, 2013. Known as the “Regional Recommendation,” the U.S. Entity developed this recommendation in collaboration and consultation with the region through an extensive, multi-year Columbia River Treaty Review. The constructive involvement of the region’s states, federally recognized tribes, and hundreds of stakeholders helped the U.S. Entity reach this important milestone. With the conclusion of the Regional Recommendation process, the U.S. government conducted a review concerning the post-2024 future of the Treaty.


Read more about the U.S. Regional Recommendation of 2013 at:


Also see:


-- CBB, Sept. 14, 2018, “Lead U.S. Negotiators For New Columbia River Treaty Hold Portland Town Hall”


--CBB, July 27, 2018, “Columbia River Treaty Negotiators Hear Views In Spokane Forum From Both Sides Of Border,”


-- CBB, April 27, 2018, “State Department Holds Town Hall On Negotiations With Canada For Modernized Columbia River Treaty”


-- CBB, Dec. 8, 2017, “U.S. - Canada Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Expected To Begin In Early 2018”

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