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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

If all goes according to plan, there could soon be salmon above the Grand Coulee Dam again. That’s according to Cody Desautel, director of Natural Resources for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville. 

“We’re going to trap and haul fish out of our hatchery and put them above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams,” he said. “So there will be salmon above Grand Coulee Dam this year for the first time in 70 years.”

When the Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933 and 1941, it effectively blocked salmon from traveling to the upper reaches of the Columbia River. But Desautel said that could change early this fall.

“There was a lot of legwork that had to happen beforehand, like risk assessments and feasibility studies and habitat assessments to know if we brought those fish back, would there be any negative repercussions,” Desautel said. “Most of that works is done. All of that work has said it will not, so now is the time.”

Desautel said the plan hangs on one last federal permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For years, the tribes have been looking for a way to return salmon above the dam. Michael Marchand is the Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville.

“When I was younger, I didn’t think I would see those things,” he said.

Marchand said his grandmother once pointed out the spot where his ancestors used to fish.

“One time, they lowered the water to work on the dam. I was just a young child and she said ‘that spot on that rock on this island is our family spot,’ and I was thinking like ‘Why is she telling me this? This dam is going to be here for a thousand years,” he said.

The dam remains, but if the final permit is approved, Colville fish managers will trap salmon at their hatchery and drive them around the dam by truck, where they’ll be released back into the Columbia River. The tribe will keep track of where those fish go.

It’s the next step in a decades-long process to reintroduce a viable salmon population on the river.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.'s note: On Friday, Dec. 8, the United States State Department issued a brief announcement that talks between the U.S. and Canada to modernize the 50+ year old Columbia River Treaty would begin in early 2018. Senator Patty Murray's statement about this announcement is posted below the State Department media note. -jb

Media Note: Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty Regime

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 7, 2017

The United States and Canada will begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018. Certain provisions of the Treaty—a model of transboundary natural resource cooperation since 1964—are set to expire in 2024.

The Columbia River’s drainage basin is roughly the size of France and includes parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and British Columbia. The Treaty’s flood risk and hydropower operations provide substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border. The Treaty has also facilitated additional benefits such as supporting the river’s ecosystem, irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation.

For further information, please email


Friday, December 8th, 2017

Kerry Arndt,, (Press Secretary)
Michael Brewer,, (Deputy Press Secretary)
Press Office: 202-224-2834

Senator Murray’s Statement on Key Announcement on Columbia River Treaty Negotiations

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released the following statement in response to news that the United States and Canada will begin negotiations in early 2018 to modernize the Columbia River Treaty.

“The Columbia River Treaty is of immense importance to the economy, environment, and culture of Washington state and the Pacific Northwest. It is clear the Columbia River Treaty in its current form needs to be updated to meet the modern-day issues facing the Columbia River Basin, the region, and the nation. The outcome of pending negotiations will have major impacts far into the future for families in my home state and beyond. I welcome the news that the United States and Canada will begin negotiations, and I support these critical talks moving forward in an efficient, constructive manner that benefits every party involved.“

To read more about the Columbia River Treaty, please click here .


columbia.riverThe event will focus on the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the United States. It will offer perspectives on what should be done to modernize the treaty to address historic wrongs, as well as restoration.

By Seattle Times staff

 An evening of “story, reflection and discussion” about the Columbia River will be held Thursday at the Mountaineering Program Center at 7700 Sand Point Way in Northeast Seattle.

 The event will focus on the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the United States. It will offer perspectives on what should be done to modernize the treaty to address historic wrongs as well as restoration needs, according to sponsors that include American Rivers, Upper Columbia United Tribes, Sierra Club and Save our Wild Salmon Coalition.

Speakers will include Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, whose books and essays focus on the culture and natural history of the Upper Columbia, and D.R. Michel of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
The event is open to the public, with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.





CRBV.Report.Cover1New study shows Columbia River Basin’s natural capital worth $198 billion annually

July 6, 2017

D.R. Michel, Upper Columbia United Tribes, 509.209.2412,
Sara Thompson, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, 503. 238.3567,
Greg Haller, Pacific Rivers, 503.228.3555 ext. 205,
Joseph Bogaard, Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, 206-300-1003,
David Batker, Earth Economics, 253.678.1563,

Spokane, WA (July, 6th, 2017)—A new report, released today, shows that the Columbia River Basin’s natural capital provides $198 billion in value annually, in food, water, flood risk reduction, recreation, habitat, aesthetic and other benefits. At 258,000 square miles, the Columbia River Basin is the foundation for communities, fish and wildlife and economic activity from the headwaters in British Columbia, Wyoming and Nevada, through Idaho, Washington and Oregon and through coastal fisheries up to Southeast Alaska. Fifteen Columbia Basin Tribes and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) contributed to and supported the development of this report.

The report also shows that modernizing dam management and increasing water flows in below average water years would enhance the basin’s natural capital value enhancing salmon runs.  A modest 10% increase in ecosystem-based function would add $19 billion per year to the basin’s value. The report’s release comes at a critical time for the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, which is due for an update in 2024.

"This report comes at a time when the region is poised to take a historic step to modernize the Columbia River Treaty," stated Jaime A. Pinkham, Executive Director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "There is vast potential for natural capital remaining in the Columbia River system. These findings tell negotiators that incorporating ecosystem based function into the Treaty will broaden and expand the economic benefits that can co-exist with flood control and energy production. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.”

As it stands, the Treaty currently has only two primary goals: flood-risk management and hydropower generation. Tribes, NGOs, and other regional stakeholders are asking that a third goal, ecosystem-based function, be added to a modernized treaty. Ecosystem-based function is a concept introduced by the tribes during the development of the regional recommendation. It acknowledges what nature provides and peoples’ obligation to protect and nurture it.

“Updating the Columbia River Treaty to include ecosystem-based function and improving dam management would benefit everyone who lives in this sacred place. It would benefit our economy, our wildlife and our culture. It is our responsibility to present and future generations to make this happen for the benefit of all.” stated D.R. Michel, Executive Director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes.

According to the report conducted by Tacoma, WA-based non-profit Earth Economics, adding this provision to the Treaty would prove immensely valuable to the region.

The report clearly outlines both present and future natural resource values in economic terms that are useful to inform the integration of ecosystem values into a modernized Columbia River Treaty.

"The findings in this report provide ample evidence that improving the health of the Columbia River makes good economic sense," said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for Pacific Rivers. "Those who say that the region spends too much on salmon recovery should read this report carefully. Changes in dam and reservoir operations to mimic seasonal flow patterns and reduce river temperatures will boost wild salmon populations significantly, thereby generating tremendous economic benefits for the region at very little cost."

The Columbia River Basin is globally recognized for its natural capital of abundant watersheds and rivers, immense forests, wetlands, native vegetation, farms, diverse wildlife and diverse outdoor recreation opportunities. These assets have supported tribes and residents for millennia, but with industrial and urban development, the basin’s rich resources have been degraded. When assets, whether built or natural, are not managed sustainably, economic loss occurs.

“An updated Columbia River Treaty needs to enhance, not degrade, the largest asset in the Basin, natural capital.  With improved dam management just a small increase in the ecosystem-based function will provide far greater and more sustainable value and jobs.” Stated David Batker, President of Earth Economics.

Understanding and revitalizing the Columbia River Basin’s natural economic assets has been a key goal for Columbia Basin Tribes and residents. Further information about this report is available at the Upper Columbia United Tribes website.

View the full report here.

View a brochure here.

View Frequently Asked Questions here.


Conservation and faith groups respond to 7 NW Members of Congress: 
Yes - negotiations need to move forward – but include restoring the Columbia’s health, avoid threatening Canada with treaty termination.  

Greg Haller (Pacific Rivers Council) 503.228.3555
Joseph Bogaard  (Save Our wild Salmon Coalition)  206.300-1003
The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner (Earth Ministry)  509.270-6995
John Osborn MD (Ethics & Treaty Project) 509.939-1290

Portland –  Responding to a letter to President Trump signed by seven Members of Congress (MOCs) from the Northwest, today Northwest conservation and faith groups encouraged the United States to work for restoring the health of the Columbia and avoid threatening Canada with termination of the Columbia River Treaty. The United States currently has the authority to begin negotiations but the federal government in Canada has not finalized its position.  The provincial elections in British Columbia and  efforts to install Provincial leadership in the wake of the tight vote last month have also contributed to the delay in finalizing the Canadian federal government’s position.

“The people of the Columbia River Basin – in both nations - can ‘hang together or hang separately,’” said Joseph Bogaard of Save Our wild Salmon.  “We support moving forward to negotiate a modern Columbia River Treaty.  But terminating the Treaty, or threatening to do so, is counter-productive. Our leaders in both nations need to work together, in good faith, to manage the Columbia River for the Common Good.”

The Columbia River is an international river managed jointly by the United States and Canada using the Columbia River Treaty.  The Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin is water rich, comprising only about 15 percent of the Basin’s land area, but producing about 40 percent of the River Basin’s water.  Two centuries ago when Lewis & Clark and David Thompson first greeted indigenous people of the river basin, the Columbia was among the richest salmon rivers on earth.  Since then, large dams and reservoirs have transformed the river into an integrated hydropower system.

On June 21, seven members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump, outlining the history of the Columbia River Treaty, encouraging treaty negotiation and threatening treaty termination.  The MOC letter does not include several important historical elements, including that communities in the Columbia Basin, especially tribes and First Nations, were never consulted in writing the international river treaty.  Nor does the MOC letter mention that the benefits of damming the Columbia River for hydropower and flood risk management came with wrenching costs to salmon and people who depend on the river.  

“The United States has come a very long way to try work with Canada to right historic wrongs and support river stewardship,” said John Osborn, a Northwest physician with the Ethics & Treaty Project.  “We continue to encourage the Treaty Power Group and elected officials that the way forward is working in good faith and through respectful dialogue with our neighbors to the north to promote the Common Good -- including river stewardship and passage for salmon now blocked by dams.”

In 2013 following years of discussions and thousands of letters from concerned citizens, federal agencies recommended that the State Department include restoring the river’s health (“Ecosystem Management”) as a primary purpose of an updated treaty, along with hydropower and flood control.  All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  In 2016 the United States began encouraging Canada to negotiate. 

“Citizens of the Columbia Basin care about power bills but also care about stewardship, social justice, and advancing the Common Good,” said The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner, a retired Lutheran minister and educator.  “Threatening Canada with treaty termination carries great risks to all life in the Basin now and into the future -- including deep drawdowns of U.S. reservoirs in Idaho and elsewhere in the Basin, which will negatively affect the Columbia River ecosystem and power generation.”

The Treaty Power Group’s, and some congressional members’ willingness to threaten termination is short-sighted and undermines the goodwill and constructive approach that is needed to tackle the full range of issues that must be addressed in a modern river treaty.  If the Treaty is terminated, then the U.S. will be required to shoulder the burden of flood risk management with U.S. dams, with no guarantees of Canada’s help.  This will cost the U.S. billions of dollars in flood protection and recompense from its own dams, undermine power generation, worsen impacts on fish and wildlife, and destroy coordinated and cooperative U.S. and Canada flood risk management that has existed as an international model for more than 50 years.

“Protecting and restoring healthy salmon populations in the Columbia Basin represents an unparalleled opportunity for our region to invest in the economy, create family-wage jobs and improve our quality of life and the health of our environment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council.  “Healthy salmon populations deliver valuable and irreplaceable benefits to our region’s economy and ecology including thousands of jobs in guiding, retail sales, manufacturing, tourism, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

Links –
Members of Congress Letter to President Trump regarding importance of renegotiating Treaty, including notice of termination (June 21, 2017)

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