Canada and US set for showdown on Columbia River Treaty

The stage is being set for a showdown between Canada and the US over the post 2014 Columbia River Treaty, as the two countries recently stated radically different visions for the upcoming renewal of the cross-border agreement.

The province wants to keep things much as they are with some improvements and more cash flowing from the agreement, while the Americans want to overhaul it from the ground up.

First established in 1964 with a 50-year term, the Columbia River Treaty saw the construction of three dams on Canadian soil to provide downstream flood control on the Columbia River system, which flows from near Invermere to the Pacific near Portland, Oregon. Under the treaty, which is set to come up for renewal in 2014, Canada receives half the revenue from the US for hydroelectric and flood control revenues south of the border.

The Columbia River Treaty Review, a provincial commission, has been studying the treaty and seeking public comment since 2011 and recently released its draft recommendation on the treaty renegotiation – which is based on findings and input so far.

According to the document, the province is seeking to keep the status quo on the treaty with some minor adjustments and improvements made within the agreement.

“Continue the Columbia River Treaty and seek improvements within the existing Treaty framework,” reads the main draft recommendation in the document.

Bennett says BC wants more

BC Minister of Energy and East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett is heading up the provincial end of the renegotiations.

“We’re not recommending the treaty be re-opened,” Bennett told the CBC last week. “We’re recommending how it can be improved.”

He added that the province may also be seeking to get more revenue from the treaty through the negotiations.

“We think it has a very significant value. Perhaps more than we are receiving today and I think that is the basis for an important conversation.”

Americans see things differently

The treaty review commission on the other side of the border has a different perspective on how the renegotiation of the treaty would look.

According to a September 21 story in the Spokane Spokesman Review, the US review committee wants the treaty to be “renegotiated to make the system more flexible amid climate change and to aid threatened and endangered species that weren’t considered when the created decades ago.”  

Environmental considerations are made in the BC provincial draft document, but are done so in a manner that keeps them outside the renegotiation process.

But benefits are also an issue for the Americans when it comes to a ground-up renegotiation of the treaty.

“It is in the best interests of the region to modernize the treaty post-2024 in such a way as to bring about better and more balanced benefits to the region,” wrote Bonneville Power’s Stephen Oliver and David Ponganis of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a Sept. 20 letter  to the American review committee.

BC consultation still ongoing

The BC Columbia River Treaty Review is still holding public consultations throughout the Columbia Basin, with upcoming events in Nakusp on Nov. 6 2013 and Castlegar on Nov. 7.

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