Columbia River Treaty: U.S. seeks better deal from B.C.

The B.C. Liberal government has released its most definitive position yet on the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty, less than a year to go before talks launch to either renegotiate or terminate the landmark deal.

B.C. says $350 million is fair for flood control and electricty; Americans disagree

The Duncan Dam, in the Purcell Mountains, is one of four dams included in the Columbia River Treaty. (Government of B.C.)

The B.C. Liberal government has released its most definitive position yet on the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty, less than a year to go before talks launch to either renegotiate or terminate the landmark deal.

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.- B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett

Earlier this week the B.C. Liberal government released its preliminary treaty draft recommendation, leaving the door open to entering negotiations but suggesting the province is satisfied with the current pact.

"We're not recommending the treaty be re-opened. We're recommending how it can be improved," says Kootenays East MLA Bill Bennett, B.C.'s energy minister and lead on the treaty file.

Bennett thinks the flood control and electricity Canadian dams provide may be worth more than that the money B.C. gets as part of the Canadian Entitlement.

"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."

'Canadian entitlement' worth $350 million

The treaty dates to 1964 and under its terms, Canada stores water behind three dams for flood control and to maximize hydro power generation. The B.C. government is leading the Canadian talks, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration are representing the Americans.

In the early years, when Canada didn't need hydro power, the U.S. paid it about $250 million annually, and Canada used the money to finance the construction of its three Columbia River dams. For the past 20 years, however, the U.S. has sent power to Canada now valued at up to $350 million — known as the "Canadian entitlement."

Beyond compensation for flood control and hydro power, the government's draft recommendation argues that the U.S. needs to provide compensation for recreation, navigation and ecosystem benefits.

The U.S. on the other hand, favours a wholesale 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 the U.S. Army's David Ponganis in a Sept. 20 letter on the matter.

With files from Bob Keating and Canadian Press

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