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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

From the desk of Pat Ford

June 20, 2013

CRT.logoSave Our wild Salmon is joining with several other groups to make sure salmon and their habitats benefit from re-negotiation of the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty that is now underway.  This is a 50-year opportunity to re-align water, salmon and energy management in the Columbia Basin to flexibly respond to climate change, restore salmon where they have been extirpated, bring flood control into the 21st century, and do long-delayed justice to Columbia Basin Indian Tribes.

The original 1964 Treaty contained just two purposes:  hydroelectric development and flood control.  This has privileged those two uses over all other Columbia uses and values, including river health, for 50 years.  In addition, the Treaty was signed without consultation with Indian Tribes, yet they have been the people most negatively affected by it.  The Treaty has done good for the Northwest, but it needs fundamental change if it is to keep doing good in the very different next 50 years awaiting us.

Fifteen Columbia Basin Indian Tribes have joined together to seek changes to the Treaty, notably:  
- inclusion of a third purpose, called ecosystem-based function, co-equal with power and flood control.    
- addition of a third treaty co-manager to represent ecosystem function (as Bonneville Power today represents power and the Army Corps flood control).  Ideally, this should be the 15 Tribes themselves, with one vote.
- a significant forward turn of the Columbia hydrograph back toward the natural template prior to its dams, as the surest way that its waters, salmon, people and communities can respond effectively to the hot water challenge that has now begun. 
- experimental salmon reintroduction and passage above the major salmon-impassable dams in the region, such as Grand Coulee and the Hells Canyon Complex.

We think these changes will be good for the entire Northwest and all its people, not just for the Tribes. They will certainly be good for the Basin's imperiled salmon and steelhead.  So SOS is supporting these four Tribal proposals.  The Tribes are focused primarily on the inside game - the complex Treaty process in which they have sovereign standing.  SOS will focus primarily on the outside game - the public and political arenas where, in the end, final decisions on the next Treaty will be made.  SOS' supporters will hear more about this work in coming months, on our website and in this newsletter.

Download the June 27 Columbia River Treaty Working Draft and the accompanying Cover Letter (PDF).

Read Paul Lumley's op-ed in the Oregonian: To manage the Columbia River, we need a new treaty for a new era

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