U.S. Side Calls For Columbia River Treaty To Be 'Modernized'
By Tom Banse
The American negotiating position became clearer today (Friday) in what promises to be difficult bargaining to update a water treaty with Canada. After years of discussion on this side of the border, two federal agencies formally asked the U.S. State Department to "modernize" the nearly fifty year old Columbia River Treaty.
In 1964, the U.S. and Canada ratified the Columbia River Treaty to ensure flood control and steady hydropower production along the shared river. It's worked, but in the American view, Northwest ratepayers now substantially overpay BC Hydro to coordinate water flows from upstream reservoirs. Portland-based Matthew Rea of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped lead regional consultations which concluded the treaty should be revised.
Matthew Rea: "My sense is that we have a high degree of regional support. I'm not sure I would call it consensus. But certainly from the key parties, I think they are generally in a position of wanting to move forward."
Rea says cutting a new deal with Canada will be tough. In a statement released Friday, the Province of British Columba asserted the U.S. is underpaying - not overpaying - for the benefits it receives. "Our coordination enables the US to effectively manage their flood control needs, environmental requirements, water supply for agriculture, communities and industry, as well as navigation of the river to name a few of the benefits," wrote Ministry of Energy and Mines spokesperson Matt Gordon.
"It is our view the benefits of the Treaty that the United States realizes are actually worth more" than the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of electricity B.C. is entitled to annually in return.
B.C. is also cool to the idea of adding ecosystem improvement goals to the Columbia River Treaty.
Northwest tribal groups and environmentalists applauded the proposed inclusion of ecosystem protection as a third primary purpose of the treaty — along with hydropower production and flood risk management.
In their finalized regional recommendation, the Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineers urged the U.S. State Department to initiate direct talks with Canada in mid-2014 with a goal of concluding negotiations on a "modernized" treaty in 2015.
U.S. Columbia River Treaty Review final recommendation:
Province of BC treaty review: