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September 20, 2013
The U.S. Entity, in consultation with Northwest states, tribes, federal agencies, public utilities, and other stakeholders, has released a draft recommendation for modernizing the 50-year old Columbia River Treaty with Canada. The Entity will submit a final recommendation to the U.S. Department of State in December of this year.
The Columbia River Treaty Review Draft Regional Recommendation is available for public review and comment through Oct. 25, 2013.
“While the region has realized substantial benefits from the Treaty since its inception in 1964, its modernization is a potential win-win opportunity for the region to achieve additional environmental and economic benefits from the Columbia River,” said Elliot Mainzer, acting BPA administrator and chair of the U.S. Entity.
“We have made major progress in getting to this draft recommendation,” said Col.(P) John Kem, commander, Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Entity member. “While we have additional work ahead of us, I am hopeful and confident that the region will come together in support of a final consensus recommendation later this year.”
The modernized Treaty envisioned in this draft recommendation would simultaneously:
Power. The draft recommendation identifies the method included in the Treaty for calculating Canada’s share of power benefits generated on the U.S. portion of the system, the so-called Canadian Entitlement, as outdated and no longer equitable, resulting in an unnecessarily excessive cost to regional utility ratepayers. It is important that any modernized Treaty more accurately calculate and equitably balance the actual benefits of coordinated power operations. The recommendation also advocates that any Treaty modifications result in a net power benefit.
Flood risk management. Current assured flood control storage arrangements provided by the Treaty for its first 60 years will change in 2024, whether the current Treaty continues or not. After 2024, the U.S. still has access to Canadian storage for flood control, but must request the storage when needed, unless other arrangements are made with Canada. The U.S. must pay Canada for the operating costs and economic losses from this “called-upon” flood control storage.
“A modernized Treaty should maintain coordinated flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy while providing the flexibility to adapt to any future changing flood risk management objectives in the U.S. and Canada and to adjust to any impacts from climate change,” said Col.(P) Kem.
Ecosystem-based function. Ecosystem-based function refers to environmental conditions including river flows, water quality and the cultural and societal benefits of healthy fish and wildlife populations, including the management of river flows to aid fish migration.
The draft recommendation states that the ecosystem function should be a third primary purpose of the Treaty. The incorporation of ecosystem-based objectives has been a major area of interest in the Treaty review process and it is prominent in the draft recommendations for this reason. After several decades of successful incorporation of ecosystem objectives into Columbia River Basin management through extensive domestic initiatives, as well as under the current Treaty by annual or seasonal agreements with Canada, the U.S. Entity believes that the Treaty could be modernized to reflect and further build upon the evolution of ecosystem as another important aspect of system operations. In addition, the recommendation advocates flexibility in the post-2024 Treaty design to allow for future changes that may be brought about by climate change.
Next steps. By December 2013, the U.S. Entity must deliver the final version of the regional recommendation to the U.S. Department of State. The Department of State will use this regional recommendation to begin the federal government policy review process to ultimately lead to a decision on whether to proceed with a treaty modernization effort with Canada. If a decision is made to enter into negotiations, they will be led by the Department of State, not the U.S. Entity. The Department of State has stated that they will need regional involvement and expertise should they open negotiations in the future. However, it is premature to identify the structure and mechanism prior to the interagency policy review. The U.S. Entity is committed to supporting this effort.