The ‘U.S. Entity’ – an organization representing the interests of regional stakeholders and tribal sovereigns in the U.S. Columbia Basin – released its ‘regional recommendations’ to the U.S. State Department on Dec. 13.
The recommendations spell out U.S. stakeholder positions on the upcoming Columbia River Treaty review process.
The recommendation states ways the stakeholders would potentially like to see the treaty change after 2024, a key date in the 1964 Columbia River Treaty (see sidebar on page 10 for explanation.)
The U.S. Entity recommendation was the result of a consultation and lobby process, and the recommended positions weren’t a foregone conclusion.
The U.S. Entity calls for a “modernized framework” for the CRT.
It elevates ‘ecosystem-based function’ as a key new recommendation, to be considered alongside the original main purposes of the treaty, which were flood control and water management for the purpose of hydroelectric generation.
“It is important to achieve a modernized framework for the treaty that balances power production, flood risk management, and ecosystem-based function as the primary purposes, while also recognizing and implementing all authorized purposes,” the U.S. recommendation states.
The U.S. recommendation notes many ecosystem programs have been added in the basin on an ad hoc basis since it was ratified in 1964, but more needs to be done, and some of these initiatives need to be incorporated into the framework.
The U.S. recommendation seeks to revise the formula on which U.S. payments to Canada are based, calling the current system an “imbalance.”
“When the treaty was ratified, the United States and Canada structured Canada’s share of these benefits as one-half of the downstream power benefits with the Canadian Treaty projects as compared to without those projects,” it states. “An equitable sharing of these benefits should instead be based on the more realistic measure of the power value of coordinated operations as compared to non-coordinated operations.”
In other words, the U.S. Entity says the U.S. is paying “significantly” too much, and the payments “far exceeds the value of coordinated power operations under the treaty.”
The U.S. Entity calls for a spectrum of considerations regarding the future of flood control mechanisms.
In 2024, the existing flood control regulations under the treaty shift to a “called-upon” system.
The entity calls for resiliency in flood control: “As the nation and region develop a better understanding of the potential implications of climate change, future flood risk management procedures need to be resilient to provide for public safety.”
The U.S. recommendations note the existing water flow agreement is a complex system of trade-offs, but say it needs “flexibility” to help meet regional needs for irrigation, municipal and industrial use, in-stream flows, navigation and recreation.
Flexibility is needed to adapt to future changes, the U.S. Entity states.
“As the nation and region develop a better understanding of the potential implications of climate change, future flood risk management procedures need to be resilient to provide for public safety.”
The U.S. Entity summarizes their position: “This recommendation seeks to formalize, provide certainty, and build on the many ecosystem actions already undertaken through annual or seasonal mutual agreements between the countries, while also providing a new increase in U.S. power benefits based on the actual value of coordinated operations with Canada, preserving an acceptable level of flood risk to the people of the Basin, and continuing to recognize and implement the other authorized purposes in the Basin.”
In the Arrow Lakes region, reservoir levels are a key concern for residents, and are likely to be affected by changes to the treaty.
As an ‘ecosystem-based function,’ the U.S. Entity is calling for specific measures to modernize the system.
They want to incorporate a “dry-year” strategy into reservoir management.
They also want to gain long-term assurance of ecosystem-based functions rather than negotiating those functions on an annual basis.
They want adaptability built into the treaty in order to address future reservoir condition changes, such as ones caused by climate change.
Because the management of reservoir levels and river flows are an important part of operating the system for fish passage, the U.S. Entity recommends that modernized operations “should not interfere with other opportunities to restore fish passage and reintroduction of fish in other blocked areas of the Columbia River Basin,” it states.
The U.S. Entity recommends the federal government make a decision by the middle of 2014 to proceed with a renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada “in order to modernize the treaty by incorporating the objectives in this regional recommendation.”
They call for negotiations to be completed by mid-2015, and if they are not successful at getting agreement on key aspects of the U.S. position, to stop and explore other options to create a “modernized, post-2024 treaty.”