By Tom Fletcher, Black Press
The B.C. government wants to keep the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty with the U.S. and recalculate the power, flood control and other benefits it provides.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett announced the decision last week to stick with the treaty and try to convince the U.S. government it is a fair deal. B.C. gets “downstream benefits” worth between $100 and $300 million a year from the treaty, and the U.S. has suggested that is too much.
“We believe, with all due respect to the U.S., that if all of the benefits in the U.S. are identified and valued, that in fact Canada probably does not receive enough,” Bennett said Thursday.
“There hasn’t been a major flood in the U.S. since the Canadian dams were constructed,” Bennett said.
“Before the Canadian dams were constructed, there were some horrible floods causing loss of life and billions of dollars of damage. So the treaty was negotiated 50 years ago on the basis of producing power and controlling floods.”
The treaty has no expiry date, but it contains a 10-year termination clause that can be invoked by either country. The U.S. State Department has the final say on whether it will continue the treaty or give notice to withdraw by 2024.
Officials at the Portland-based Bonneville Power Administration have recommended a “modernized framework that balances power production, flood risk management, and ecosystem-based function as the primary purposes addressed in the treaty, while also meeting other congressionally authorized purposes of the U.S. project, such as irrigation and navigation.”
On the B.C. side, dams on the Columbia system provide about half of the province’s current electricity supply.
Bennett said he expects tough negotiations, but he is confident the treaty can be settled.
“Yankee trader is an expression that I’m familiar with,” Bennett said. “They’ve always done very well on the softwood agreement it seems to me, so I’m not expecting an easy ride or anything. But the history of the treaty is that the two countries have collaborated very well.”
The treaty process
Following extensive consultations during the two-year treaty review process, the decision includes 14 principles that will guide British Columbia in any discussions on the future of the treaty with Canada and the United States.
One of the key principles—and the primary goal of the treaty from B.C.’s perspective—is to create and equitably share benefits from trans-boundary co-ordination with the United States, recognizing that British Columbia is impacted by treaty operations.
The decision also recognizes that salmon migration on the Columbia River was eliminated by the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, 26 years prior to treaty ratification and concludes that the restoration of fish passage and habitat should be the responsibility of each country.
Other principles in the decision include considerations around flood control, hydropower generation, ecosystems and climate change, while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to evolving economic, social and environmental circumstances in each country. B.C. has engaged in discussions with Canada on how both governments will work together in anticipation of any future potential negotiations with the United States.
The Columbia River Treaty Review included economic, environmental, social, hydrological and legal analyses as well as extensive public and First Nations consultation leading to a decision on whether to continue, amend or terminate the Columbia River Treaty with the United States.
The U.S. Entity (Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) made its final recommendations to the U.S. federal government in December, which are currently being reviewed by the U.S. State Department. The United States will co-ordinate a federal interagency review under the general direction of the National Security Council on behalf of the President of the United States.
This internationally respected water management agreement was ratified in
1964 and has spurred ongoing discussions around the need for cross-border collaboration to address flooding concerns and growing demands for energy.
Although the treaty has no specified end date, either Canada or the U.S. can unilaterally terminate most of the agreement provisions as early as Sept. 16, 2024, provided that at least 10 years notice is given (on or before Sept. 16, 2014). Whether the treaty is terminated or not, in 2024 the flood control regime changes in ways that will create significant impacts to U.S. interests.
Governments on both sides of the border have undertaken a review of the treaty. The Ministry of Energy and Mines is leading the review on behalf of the Province and is co-ordinating this review with the federal government.
To view B.C.’s final decision visit: