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Fifth Round Of Negotiations Aimed At Modernizing U.S./Canada Columbia River Treaty Concludes
Posted on Friday, March 08, 2019 (PST)

A fifth round of Columbia River Treaty negotiations was recently concluded by the United States and Canada in Washington, D.C., this time focusing on American priorities for managing water in the basin.

 

The Feb. 27-28 meeting centered on the main topics that were identified when negotiations got underway in May of 2018: continuing careful flood risk management through coordinated operations of hydroelectric dams on both sides of the border; maintaining a reliable and economical power supply; and managing the Columbia River system in a way that improves ecosystem benefits.

 

The U.S. State Department has been tight-lipped about the negotiations, but a British Columbia Cabinet minister charged with monitoring the negotiations offered some insight this week to the Canadian Press.

 

Minister Katrine Conroy says talks have been “frank,” and that all matters are on the table, including reducing Canada’s “entitlement” of electricity generated in the U.S. in exchange for water storage, and cutting downstream benefits to the U.S.

 

She said talks have advanced on the topics of flood risk management and hydropower coordination.

 

“I know from our perspective, the operations on this side are incredibly important, especially the lake levels in both east and west Kootenay. It’s always an issue for people on this side of the basin,” she said.

 

Conroy explained that requests from the U.S. for increased flows would translate to fluctuating reservoir levels in B.C., which draws complaints. Extreme weather in recent years has focused attention on flood-risk management.

 

“Because of climate change and the fluctuating levels of our rivers in the last few years and some of the floods that have come about, we do need the flood control and we do need that flood control downstream,” she said.

 

The 55-year-old treaty, set to expire by 2024, is touted by both negotiating teams as a model for transboundary relations. Both sides also believe the treaty is ripe for modernization to account for demographic, land use, and environmental changes that have occurred since the treaty took effect in 1964.

 

Flood risk management and economically efficient hydropower were the original concerns of the treaty. The new element is ecosystem functions, largely because of a long and steady decline in salmon populations due to hydropower dams. All three elements are connected in complex and multi-layered ways.

 

Negotiators on both sides have said they are striving for flexibility – the ability to carry out adaptive management strategies in the midst of climate change, changing energy markets and future development throughout the region.

 

While the negotiating sessions are not open to the public or media, the U.S. negotiating team has and will continue to hold town hall meetings to get public input on the treaty. The last one was Sept. 6 in Portland and the next one is schedule for March 20 in Kalispell, Mont. The events have been co-hosted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

 

U.S. negotiators have said they are largely focused on a “Regional Recommendation” that came out in 2013 after a lengthy public process that involved reviewing benefits and harms caused by the treaty. The process involved Columbia Basin states, tribes and hundreds of stakeholders. 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 2013 U.S. Regional Recommendation at: https://www.bpa.gov/Projects/Initiatives/crt/CRT-Regional-Recommendation-eFINAL.pdf

 

For more on the treaty and upcoming town hall meetings, visit: https://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/ca/topics/c78892.htm

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, Oct. 26, 2018, “Lead Diplomat For U.S. Sizes Up Ongoing Columbia River Treaty Negotiations,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441718.aspx

 

-- CBB, Sept. 14, 2018, “Lead U.S. Negotiators For New Columbia River Treaty Hold Portland Town Hall” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441485.aspx

 

--CBB, July 27, 2018, “Columbia River Treaty Negotiators Hear Views In Spokane Forum From Both Sides Of Border,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441189.aspx

 

-- CBB, April 27, 2018, “State Department Holds Town Hall On Negotiations With Canada For Modernized Columbia River Treaty” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440608.aspx

 

-- CBB, Dec. 8, 2017, “U.S. - Canada Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Expected To Begin In Early 2018” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439924.aspx

 

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