NEGOTIATING THE MODERNIZATION OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY
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By Cori Marshall
In 1964, the United States and Canada ratified a trans-boundary water management agreement known as the Columbia River Treaty. According to a British Columbia (BC) website "the treaty optimizes flood management and power generation, requiring coordinated operations of reservoirs and flows for Columbia River and Kootenay River," in both countries.
Implementation of the treaty itself is done by the entities of each country. The American entities are the Bonneville Power Administration and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The entity implementing the treaty north of the border is BC Hydro.
"Canada agreed to provide 8.45 million acre feet (increased to 8.95 million acre feet in 1995) of assured annual water storage for flood control purposes for 60 years at the three Treaty reservoirs," according to the website.
The provisions for On Call Flood Control are "intended to be used during periods of very high water inflows."Under these conditions the US "can request that Canada provide on call storage in addition," to what is assured in the treaty. In the event that the US requests On Call Storage they "must pay the operating costs and any BC economic loss."
There is no official end date to the Columbia River Treaty, though there are options for Canada or the United States to put an end to most of the treaty provisions. The option for the countries to do so would only be possible starting in September 2024, given that there has been ten years prior notice.
The earliest point when the two countries could have given notice was in 2014, and prior to that date the US and Canada reviewed the treaty.
In a press release on December 7, 2017 the US Department of State indicated that both countries would "begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018." the State Department stated that "the treaty's flood risk and hydropower operations provide substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border."
2018 has arrived, and Water Today has reached out to the stakeholders in the negotiations, to find out where they stand going into negotiations.
According to a spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, "the US Department of State is actively working with Canadian officials to begin negotiations as soon as possible."
The Department looks to continue the flood risk management and power supply aspects of the agreement while "better addressing the ecosystem in a modernized treaty regime." They added "the United States and Canada have a long, positive history of engagement on the Columbia River Treaty, we expect to continue that cooperative spirit when we engage in negotiations."
British Columbia MLA for Kootenay West, Katrine Conroy, is the Minister responsible for the Treaty in the province.
"British Columbia looks forward to engaging with Canada and the United States on the future of the Columbia River Treaty," Conroy said. She added that they "support continuing the Treaty and seeking improvements using the flexibility within the existing Treaty framework."
"While the original Treaty focused on flood protection and power benefits, today the Treaty also provides beneficial water levels for US navigation and recreation, and also supports US efforts to enhance lower Columbia salmon populations. BC will want a fair share of those benefits."
Conroy underlined that it is "important for Canada and BC to continue to work closely with affected First Nations to ensure their rights and interests are respected."
Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West
John Babcock, Spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said that "Canada envisions the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty based on the original principle of the creation of benefits and the equitable sharing of these benefits." He added that "our focus will be on ensuring the interests of Canada, British Columbia, and First Nations are addressed."
The stage has been prepared for the key players to reopen this historic agreement, and the priorities of each of the stakeholders is set. There is no danger that the Treaty will disappear seeing that certain provisions of the Treaty will continue regardless of the outcome.