April 7, 2023
The 16th round of Canada-U.S. negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty took place on March 22 and 23, in Washington, D.C.
During this latest session, conversations between Canadian and American negotiators focused on strengthening co-operation to support aquatic life and biodiversity in the Columbia River Basin, ongoing studies regarding salmon reintroduction, flood-risk management, and the connection between hydropower operations and Canada’s desire for greater flexibility in how its treaty dams are operated.
The treaty plays a significant role in shaping river flows and dam operations across the basin as more than a third of the Columbia’s water comes from Canada.
The two countries have been in negotiations to update – ‘modernize’ – the Columbia River Treaty for over four years. If a new agreement is not reached within two years, the terms of the current Treaty will shift responsibility for flood control south of the border from Canada to the U.S., potentially forcing major operational changes at eight dams and reservoirs located in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.
Currently the two countries operate the reservoirs and dams under Assured Operations Plans. Without AOPs management would resort to uncertain “called upon” operations.
As has been the case since 2019, the Canadian negotiation delegation in March included representatives of the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C. and the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations. In addition to federal agencies, the American delegation included expert-advisors from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden issued a joint statement on March 24:
“Canada and the United States will intensify their work over the coming months toward agreement on a modernized treaty regime that will support a healthy and prosperous Columbia River Basin. We will focus on flood risk management, power generation, and environmental benefits that are shared equitably by both countries and the Indigenous peoples and Tribal nations, communities, and stakeholders in this watershed. The Columbia River is a vital shared resource that underpins many lives and industries on both sides of the border and the watershed requires our attention and prompt coordination.”
A letter signed by all members of the Northwest congressional delegation sent to Biden just before his meeting with Trudeau said, “While there has been some progress, the United States and Canada are entering a critical period and need to conclude Treaty negotiations to avoid significant and widespread impacts to the region. Without an agreement, both countries will have to prepare for unwelcome volatility and strains on Columbia River Basin operations, including increased flood risks and economic uncertainty in the United States.”
The next round of negotiations will be held on May 16 and 17 in British Columbia.
Encouraging advancements for Columbia River Treaty negotiations Apr 5, 2023
This week, the British Columbia province issued the following update on treaty negotiations:
The past year has seen an encouraging shift in discussions between Canada and the U.S. about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.
When reflecting on activities in 2022, Katrine Conroy, Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, described “the most promising advancements since discussions about the Treaty’s future began in 2018.” Minister Conroy was referring to substantial progress made over three formal rounds of negotiation meetings and a series of technical sessions that kept Canadian and American negotiators busy throughout the year.
Three months into 2023, they show no signs of slowing down. The negotiating teams met in Vancouver, B.C., on January 25 and 26 and, following a series of intersessional meetings, reconvened for the 16th round of negotiations on March 22 and 23 in Washington D.C.
The countries have now exchanged several proposals outlining what a modernized Treaty might include, and are working hard to find common ground. Conversations have been constructive and, at times, challenging, as both sides strive to meet the needs of their respective regions. They are advancing views on hydropower co-ordination and flood-risk management and are moving closer to alignment on aspects of ecosystem co-operation, flexibility for how Canada operates its Treaty dams, and collaborative engagement on Libby Dam operations.
Flexibility is especially important to the Canadian negotiating team, which includes Canada, B.C. and the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations. It would allow B.C. to adjust Treaty operations to enhance ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and address social and economic interests. Canada’s Negotiation Advisory Team is examining different ways of operating the dams to meet these goals while continuing the Treaty’s original purpose of increasing power generation and preventing damaging floods. To inform these discussions, Indigenous Nations are leading research to develop objectives for ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values, and the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments Committee is developing objectives for socio-economic interests.
While there is no deadline for modernizing the Treaty, Canada, B.C., and Indigenous Nations remain committed to working with the U.S. to reach a fair agreement that shares benefits equitably between countries.
“Although there are still outstanding issues to be resolved,” Minister Conroy said in a statement following the January round of talks, “there is cause for optimism as the negotiating teams move closer to a consensus on some of the main issues. Canada and the U.S. are working together to reach an agreement-in-principle that will protect and support people in the Columbia River Basin and the region’s ecosystems.”
Before any agreement on a modernized Treaty is finalized, the Province will engage with Basin residents to explain what is being proposed and provide the opportunity for feedback. While there is currently no timeline for when that could happen, what’s certain is that 2023 is shaping up to be another busy year at the Columbia River Treaty negotiating table.