If you work on salmon ecosystems or the impacts of hydropower (environmental, energy, climate change, etc.) and this treaty hasn't been on your radar, I recommend you read on: the CRT has water and ecosystem management, GHG emissions, and power supply implications for the entire U.S. Pacific Northwest.
(Scroll to the bottom for a fascinating historical side-note about how Woody Guthrie took a temp job as a shill for hydropower in the Columbia River Basin in 1941.)
|Image from Northwest Division U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2017) Source|
Places to read more on the CRT basics:
- Wikipedia article on the Columbia River Treaty- appears updated to ~2013-2014.
- "Columbia River Treaty: Review of landmark deal could have big implications for county: Pact between Canada, U.S. manages flood control, power" - 2013, by Eric Florip for The Columbian.
- The Columbia Basin Trust's CRT summary - including a timeline updated to 2014.
- U.S. Congressional Research Service report: "Columbia River Treaty Review" - Dec. 5, 2016, 17 pages.
The most hotly debated topic is whether the U.S. has been underpaying or overpaying for flood control benefits on the Canadian side of the river basin. In the worst case scenario (for ecosystem management and climate change concerns) this will be the only thing negotiated in the treaty's modernization.
In 2024 the flood control terms change to "called upon" flood control, meaning that the agreement providing U.S. rental of flood storage space behind Canadian dams expires. This means the U.S. would be responsible for its own flood storage space behind its own dams, allowing the Canadian side to use its dams and reservoirs primarily (exclusively?) for power production instead of flood storage for the U.S., allowing the U.S. to "call upon" extra storage on the Canadian side only after it had carried out its own flood control measures, and then on a case-by-case basis, paying as it goes. Canadian-side treaty reservoir levels would be dictated solely according to Canadian needs for the first time since 1964.
Some of the problems this upcoming renegotiation needs to address:
- Calculating the fair value of the Canadian contribution to the system (the "Canadian Entitlement," 50% of the value of the water in hydropower that crosses the border): as noted above, the U.S. thinks it has been overpaying for the benefit from flood control and hydropower on the Canadian side of the river basin; Canada thinks the U.S. has been underpaying.
- Climate change impacts: increasing drought (frequency, severity, and length) is causing lower hydropower output with reduced flow, greater flood risk from higher rainfall coming in shorter periods (e.g., associated with atmospheric rivers) requiring greater flood control capacity, and reduced snowpack with more precipitation coming as rain rather than snow potentially exacerbating both floods and late season drought (since the snowpack will be contributing less meltwater in the summer). The changes to the water regime also have implications for irrigation and migrating salmon.
- First Nations/ Native American cultural and environmental concerns: these were neglected in the 1964 treaty. In particular the cultural and environmental value of salmon needs to be taken into account.
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) implications of increased water storage if new dams are built: new studies are showing that hydropower, long considered a "clean" or GHG-free power source, produces significant GHGs, mostly coming from methane from rotting vegetation behind dams.
- For more on this, check out the 2012 study by marine scientists Bridget Deemer and Maria Glavin that shows how interruption of the downstream flow of organic carbon contributes to climate change, specifically documenting a 20-fold rise in methane emissions as Washington's Lacamas Lake reservoir was drawn down.
- Other environmental concerns associated with the hydropower dams governed by the treaty, including terrestrial wildlife impacts, sediment loss downstream, and implications for recreation, transportation, and economic development.
What Happened with CRT Negotiations Oct. 2016- Oct. 2017?
A year ago, on the doorstep of the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. took the formal steps necessary to officially begin negotiations on the CRT.
- Oct. 7, 2016: U.S. State Dept. "finalized Circular 175, authorizing talks with Canada to modernize the treaty." (Press Release U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell [D-WA], Oct. 7, 2016)
- June 21, 2017: Letter sent to President Trump from "bipartisan group of Northwest House members" urging him "to 'take any and all necessary actions' to initiate negotiations with Canada over the future of the Columbia River Treaty, including sending a notice of termination so as 'to incentivize Canada to come to the table.'" (NW Fishletter, July 3, 2017)
- July 2017: Term ended for U.S.-side CRT negotiator (Brian Doherty). (NW Fishletter, July 3, 2017)
- August 16, 2017: New U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the CRT. (U.S. State Dept. Press Release, Aug. 16, 2017)
- September 2017: Premier of British Columbia John Horgan met with Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, agreeing to advance negotiations toward formal engagement in the fall. (Based on e-mail from expert source, see * below.)
- "Mid-September" 2017: Jerry Rigby, legal counsel for a committee representing water storage holders in Idaho’s Upper Snake reservoirs, together with other officials representing Idaho water users met with Trump Administration officials in D.C. One source reporting on this meeting said, "Administration officials are [...] sympathetic with Idaho’s position on the proposed inclusion of 'ecosystem' considerations in the treaty, regarding minimum flows for endangered fish..." (Capital Press :"The West's Ag Website," Oct. 4, 2017)
- October 16, 2017: New U.S.-side CRT negotiator appointed: Jill Smail. (NW Fishletter, Nov. 6, 2017)
From the NW Fishletter: From 2009 through September 2017, Smail served as a water advisor in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for Environment, Science, Technology, and Health, where she negotiated transboundary water issues in the Middle East. She joined the U.S. Department of State in 2001.
Read the Save Our Wild Salmon article about Smail's appointment (Oct. 27, 2017), which gives a little more about her background. (I was unable to find the announcement of her appointment on the U.S. Dept. of State website itself.)
- "Mid-October" 2017: New Canadian-side CRT negotiator appointed: Sylvan Fabi. (Trail Times, Nov. 2, 2017).
Taken from coverage of Fabi's appointment as Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica in 2015: Sylvain Fabi [...] worked in sales and marketing for pharmaceutical multinationals before joining a consulting firm specialized in small and medium-sized enterprises. He joined the Trade Commissioner Service of External Affairs and International Trade Canada in 1992 [...]. He then worked as a trade commissioner at the Canadian embassy in Moscow from 1995 to 1998. [...] From 2005 to 2009, he was senior trade commissioner and counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Santiago. [...] Since , he has directed the North America Policy and Relations Division. (Source 1; Source 2)
- Nov. 2, 2017: The U.S.-based Columbia Basin Development League annual meeting was held in Moses Lake, Washington. At this meeting Washington state’s agriculture department director Derek Sandison said, "British Columbia recommended modernizing the treaty, but Canada has not yet formally engaged. [...] Signs indicate they’re prepared to engage soon. [...]." And, "[Sandison said he] expects movement on the treaty by the end of the year." (Chinook Observer, Nov. 14, 2017)
* On Oct. 3, 2017, I asked the Research Director of the Climate Adaptation Team at Simon Fraser University, Jon O'Riordan, one of the co-authors of The Columbia River Treaty: A Primer (Sanford, Harford, O'Riordan, 2014), for an update on where things stood on the Canadian side. He wrote:
"My understanding is that Premier Horgan and Minister Freeland met in September and agreed that a Cabinet Note on the Canadian mandate for the Treaty negotiations would go to Cabinet this fall. I am not aware that this has yet happened. The change in the BC Government extended the time frame for seeking Federal approvals."I followed up with Mr. O'Riordan on Nov. 27, 2017, to see if there was any progress, and he alerted me to Sylvain Fabi's appointment and added, "Canadian officials have drafted a mandate for the Treaty negotiations and this is to be discussed by federal cabinet in the fall."
As of this date the Canadian side has not yet formally engaged in CRT negotiations.
The Columbia Treaty: Treaty between Canada and the United States of America relating to Cooperative Development of the Water Resources of The Columbia River Basin - 62 pages, ratified Sept. 16, 1964.
Official Government Websites Pertaining to CRT Negotiations
Canadian positions:British Columbia's official site on the CRT.
British Columbia's stakeholder engagement process in the CRT review:
Meeting materials from the Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee's only 2017 meeting so far (June 20-21, 2017). Includes: BC Hydro PowerPoint "Climate Change in the Columbia Basin" - by Stephanie Smith, Manager of Hydrology, BC Hydro, presented at a Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee meeting, June 20, 2017, 39 pages. (See p. 22: "What does this mean for the Treaty Review?" - "Same or more water available, particularly in Canadian Columbia; Timing of runoff is changing.")
Official website of Katrine Conroy, BC's Member of the Legislative Assembly for Kootenay West, appointed in 2013 as opposition critic for the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) review. She also oversees the Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Power.
U.S. positions:CRT 50th Anniversary Press Release from U.S. Government (Sept. 16, 2014). It clarifies the nature of the U.S.-side CRT management entity:
"The U.S. Entity, which consists of the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division Engineer, is charged with formulating and carrying out the operating arrangements necessary to implement the Columbia River Treaty in concert with the Canadian Entity."Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) official CRT page.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division official CRT page - under the Columbia Basin Water Management Division.
U.S. Government official site on the CRT - managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).
More Useful CRT Resources
- Universities Consortium on Columbia River Governance
- Especially this page of links
- Columbia Basin Trust
- Simon Fraser University's Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) resources on the Columbia River Treaty
- "Columbia Basin Treaty History" (9:15), posted in 2010 but with an unclear provenance/date, based on video quality possibly 20+ years old, and based on the narrator's text probably of Canadian origin ("the United States pays us..."). It includes the perspectives of people flooded out by CBT dams.
- Columbia Basin Trust's animated history of the treaty and the trust (3:59), posted in 2016.
- The Columbia River Treaty, Climate Change, Tribal Rights and Water Scarcity (1:27:00), posted in 2015. This is a recording of a forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County featuring panelists Scott Simms (Secretary to the U.S. Entity for the Columbia River Treaty), Paul Lumley (Executive Director at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission) and Rachael Paschal Osborn, (public interest water lawyer at the Center for Environmental Law and Policy).
An Interesting Pre-CRT Historical Moment Involving Woody Guthrie Shilling for Hydropower (!)
Roll on Columbia: Woody Guthrie and the Bonneville Power Administration (56:29) - the story of how in 1941 Guthrie took a temp job with the BPA writing songs to promote using dams for cheap electricity. In 30 days he wrote 26 songs, the most prolific period of his career.