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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

First, thanks to everybody who was able to make a gift in support of last week’s conservation/fishing/faith delegation to Washington DC. This support made our very successful trip possible - and we are very grateful. Joseph Bogaard and Susan Holmes, SOS’ D.C. Representative were joined by Greg Haller of Pacific Rivers Council, John DeVoe of WaterWatch of Oregon, and former Lutheran Pastor Tom Soeldner of Earth Ministry to spend the week on Capitol Hill advocating to modernize the 50-year-old U.S. – Canada Columbia River Treaty. Our excellent team of expert-advocates had a very busy and productive week - meeting with officials in the Obama Administration including: ·     U. S. State Department - the U.S. Treaty lead in Washington D.C.
·     Department of the Interior
·     U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
·     Environmental Protection Agency
·     Army Corps of Engineers
·     National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and
·     President’s Council on Environmental Quality

We also met with Congressional offices including Senate staff for Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), and John Tester (MT), and we stopped by a number of Northwest House offices over the course of the week as well. Overall, we received a warm reception – members of Congress and agency officials appreciated our visit and hearing our perspective and concerns as the State Department considers a recommendation to the White House about if and how to begin negotiations with our neighbor to the north. For the most part, Administration officials were engaged and up-to-speed on the Treaty process - asking questions, providing perspective, and offering advice. All the Senate offices were likewise attentive, receptive, and supportive. It was clear that other more well-resourced stakeholders from the region (such as the utilities/dam operators) have been frequent visitors to “the Hill” in recent months. As best as we could tell, there is strong support in the Administration and in Congress for the Regional Recommendation – the consensus document delivered last December by the Northwest to the State Department. Since that time, State has assembled an inter-agency committee to review the Recommendation before it suggests any next steps to the White House. This is good news. Our team delivered the following messages to officials and decision-makers in D.C.:

1.   Modernize the Treaty! and

2.   Add “Ecosystem Function” (health of the river) as a new 3rd Treaty purpose – to join flood management and power production. And in the meantime, as the State Department considers the Recommendation, we urged members of Congress and the Administration to move forward on a number of important and related issues now:

A.   Initiate a comprehensive flood policy review to explore opportunities and challenges facing flood management for Columbia River Basin communities, and to identify needs and new ways that we can co-optimize power, flood management, and ecosystem health.

B.   Add a new 3rd member to the U.S. Entity to represent ecosystem function or health (the Entity today has just two representatives – Bonneville Power Administration (for power interests) and Army Corps of Engineers (for flood management). C.    Begin a long-term initiative to restore salmon and other anadromous fish above now impassable dams, beginning with the main-stem Columbia, as proposed by the 15 Columbia River Basin Tribes. We also delivered a sign-on letter co-organized by SOS, addressed to the Northwest members of Congress and CC’ed to many Obama Administration officials, signed by 34 Northwest conservation/fishing organizations and business associations representing hundreds of thousands of Northwest citizens that (1) expressed our appreciation for their support to modernize the Treaty and to begin negotiations with Canada, and (2) then delivered the messages in italics above.

We also delivered a heads-up to everyone in D.C. about a soon-to-be-released Declaration: Ethics & the Columbia River Treaty from Tribal and religious leaders in the Northwest and British Columbia. It is a broadly supported and powerful statement highlighting the ethical and justice dimensions of modernizing the Treaty. The letter is now out - released earlier this week. Read the Cover Letter signed by 21 Tribal and Religious Leaders and the Declaration here.
We left D.C. slightly exhausted on Friday, but confident that we had delivered clear messages to Congress and the Administration reflecting strong popular support for modernizing the Treaty so that it rights historic wrongs, becomes an agent for protecting and restoring endangered fish and wildlife, and is able to meet the challenges of the 21st Century – not the least of which will be the warming waters and changing hydrographs caused by climate change.


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