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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

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)

August 12, 2016

Frustrated that the State Department has yet to take action on the Columbia River Treaty, 22 members of the Northwest congressional delegation on Aug. 11 sent another letter—the third—to Secretary of State John Kerry urging action. “We write to express concern about the U.S. Department of State’s slow progress toward modernizing” the treaty, stated the letter, which was coordinated through the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

It’s been more than two-and-half-years since BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after a multiyear collaboration with the Sovereign Review Team, finalized the nine principles in the Northwest’s Regional Recommendation on the future of the treaty. Since then, the delegation has sent two letters—one in April 2014 and another in April 2015—unsuccessfully asking the administration to open negotiations with Canada. Regional officials were encouraged in fall 2015 when State appointed Brian Doherty, a senior foreign service officer, as chief negotiator for modernization of the treaty. Doherty made a number of initial contacts with regional officials late last year and reportedly made a good impression on them.

Doherty also toured treaty-related sites, and has continued to organize nearly monthly technical meetings with tribes, power groups and even some Canadians. However, he has held no public meetings, and State has repeatedly declined formal requests by Clearing Up to interview Doherty.

Northwest officials worry that the longer it takes to begin negotiations, the longer the region will continue with coordinated river operations of limited value and an obligation to return to Canada a share of power generated in the U.S., which under treaty terms comes to about 450 aMW of energy and 1,300 MW of capacity, while the actual current value is estimated by BPA to be 90 aMW and zero MW of capacity.

According to the latest letter, State promised to begin negotiations in 2016. “Unfortunately, more than seven months into 2016 the negotiating parameters that are a prerequisite for formal negotiations still have not been approved by the U.S. Department of State. We have been told for many months that this document, known as a Circular 175, is almost complete.”

However, a related press release noted that while State “has insisted for months” the process “was nearly complete, there have been no indications” that it “is close to approving the document.” In previous letters, the Northwest congressional delegation asked the administration to begin negotiations with Canada in 2015.

In the current letter, the delegation asked Kerry to “conclude the review process, approve the Circular 175 immediately, and press Canada to appoint a lead negotiator and engage in negotiations,” all of which must take place before negotiations can begin. They also want to meet in person with Kerry to discuss his progress, after Congress returns in September.

The press release notes that time “is running out” for the Obama administration. While there is regional sentiment that the impending change in administrations will inevitably slow down State’s progress, some feel the work is sufficiently deep within the bureaucracy that it will not be seriously impacted.

Meanwhile, BPA appears to have lowered its expectations about how fast work on the treaty will take place. “We are aware that the State Department continues to work to get the formal engagement with Canada underway,” BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer said in a statement to Clearing Up. “This is taking more time than folks anticipated.”

Cantwell is reported to be especially frustrated not only with State, but with Canada as well. Last March, she obtained a commitment from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion to appoint a Canadian negotiator (CU No. 1739 [14]), but no one has been named so far. The topic also came up in June, when Cantwell met with Canadian Ambassador to
the U.S. David MacMaughton.

Jim Heffernan, policy analyst with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), said, “Everyone in the basin is in agreement that we wish the Circular 175 process had been completed last year. So, we’re a little frustrated with that.” But he thinks the new letter “will go a long way to shaking the tree at the State Department.”

Canadian officials have indicated to him it won’t take them anywhere near as long to get rolling once the Americans say they’re ready, and that they can get authority to negotiate in a couple of months. Heffernan also said the most critical deadline is September 2024, when treaty flood-control provisions expire. The annual assured operating plans that determine benefits are initiated six years in advance, and an agreement to set those benefits through 2024 is in place.

However, he said, “the tribes want to see the region engage in a collaborative modeling approach that integrates flood-control management, ecosystem-based function and a reliable, sustainable power system before we get to 2024 so we can avoid a situation” in which flood-control provisions automatically default to so-called “effective use” and “called upon” protocols. The delays put a timely collaboration at risk, he said.

Heffernan said tribal leaders have also been frustrated because they have not been able to arrange a “principals” meeting with members of the Columbia River Treaty Power Group since late in 2013. If they’d done so by now, “we could have pushed State harder to get the Circular 175 done.”

Although staffs have met, and another principals meeting nearly came together in early 2015, logistical issues arose, and since then the power group has asked for a “pause” on plans for a meeting. Heffernan said tribal leaders are anxious to get together so they can talk about an agenda on how to work together to advance the Regional Recommendation before negotiations start.

Jessica Matlock, Snohomish PUD governmental relations director and spokesperson for the Columbia River Treaty Power Group—which includes 85 Northwest utilities—said the delay has been “disappointing,” adding, “Our ratepayers lose money every day without having this resolved.” She said the group had been hopeful “we could get this started before the new administration starts.”

As for CRITFC tribal leaders’ desire to meet with Power Group principals, Matlock said its refusal to set a meeting is not for any lack of respect for the tribes’ positions and co-management of the river. Rather, she said, “There are so many electric utilities working together that we want to make sure we are comfortable with our positions as well, and we want to focus on the number one priority: getting Canada at the table with the State Department to start negotiations.”

Matlock noted the group has assigned a liaison who has met regularly with the tribes, but “we don’t want to talk details because we are still running our own analyses internally to figure out what scenarios are correct for our ratepayers and the Columbia River system.”

The delegation emphasized these and other extensive impacts of delaying treaty negotiations. “Treaty modernization and negotiations with Canada directly affect the economy, environment, and flood control needs of communities we represent in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana along over 1,200 miles of the Columbia River and its tributaries,” the delegation told Kerry. The Columbia River “plays a critical role in the economy and culture of each of our states, and potential management changes initiated through the Treaty could have major impacts far into the future.”

Besides Cantwell, other Washington delegation members signing the letter were Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Adam Smith, Dennis Heck, Jim McDermott, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Suzan DelBene, Dan Newhouse, Dave Reichert, Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen.

From Oregon were Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden. Montana signatories were Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Ryan Zinke. Rep. Mike Simpson, from Idaho, also signed

[Ben Tansey].

maria.cantwellFriday, June 24, 2016

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) met with Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton ahead of the North American Leaders Summit to discuss the progress being made toward a new Columbia River Treaty.

In March, Cantwell secured a commitment from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that America’s northern neighbor was willing to move forward to modernize the treaty.

“Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty to balance flood control, ecosystem protection, and hydropower generation can be a win – win for both Canada and the United States” said Cantwell. “I am happy to report that Ambassador MacNaughton agreed that there are several areas for our countries to work together.”

Updating the treaty, which has not been revised since it was ratified in 1964, will allow the US and Canada, said Cantwell in a press release, to “work on critical clean energy solutions such as smart grid with intermittent power, grid-scale storage and clean infrastructure solutions.”

Cantwell said she supports the U.S. negotiating position based on the “Regional Recommendation” to modernize the treaty, balancing ecosystem function including salmon recovery, flood control and hydropower generation.

(See CBB, Sept. 27, 2013, “U.S. Releases Draft Recommendations For ‘Modernizing’ Columbia River Treaty”

Cantwell said the commitment from Trudeau was an important step in beginning joint US-Canadian talks to modernize the treaty.

The Columbia River Treaty has no specific end date, and most of its provisions would continue indefinitely without action by the United States or Canada. However, the treaty states either the United States or Canada can terminate most of its provisions beginning September 2024, with a minimum 10 years written notice.

Cantwell has been a leader in pressing for the modernization of the treaty. Last year, she sent a letter to President Obama with 25 other members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation, urging the Administration to move forward with a strategy for addressing the treaty.

North American Leaders Summit will take place June 29 in Ottawa, Canada. President Obama will meet with Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.


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