Decision on Columbia River Treaty renegotiation expected

Several western states are likely to tell the U.S. State Department and President Obama if they want the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty terminated or renegotiated to reflect changes since it was signed.
The Duncan Dam, in the Purcell Mountains, is one of four dams included in the Columbia River Treaty. (Government of B.C.)

Several western states are likely to tell the U.S. State Department and President Obama if they want the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty terminated or renegotiated to reflect changes since it was signed.

The Columbia River Treaty, ratified in 1963, led to construction of four dams which flooded hundreds of kilometres of valley bottom in southeastern B.C.

The treaty allows for cross border management of water in the Columbia River that flows 2,000 kilometres through B.C., Washington and Oregon.    

The storage of water in B.C. allows for the generation of more electricity at 11 dams south of the border, and Canada and the U.S. share that benefit on a 50-50 basis. 

Canada's half is called the Canadian Entitlement and the U.S. transfers $100 million to $350 million worth of electricity to B.C. every year to pay for that storage. 

Either country can call for the renegotiation of parts of the treaty starting in 2014.

Treaty needs 'modernization'

Dave Ponganis with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which currently oversees operations of the treaty in the U.S., says American utilities are tired of paying so much money for water storage.

"The term we've been using is we want to modernize," said Ponganis, "The calculations were based on assumptions made 50 years ago. And we think we need to modernize some of those calculations."

Western states are expected to recommend this week to President Obama if they want the treaty renegotiated. 

Their utility companies, which pay the Canadian Entitlement, have made it clear how they feel.

"There are folks who think we don't get the best value out of the treaty and termination is probably the best route," said Nancy Stephan, with the Bonneville Power Administration.

"The U.S. State Department will take a period of time here to look at the recommendation by the region." 

The U.S. State Department and President Obama have final say on the treaty.

The B.C. government hopes to make changes to the treaty without full termination.

Dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries

Dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries (U.S. Army Corp of Engineers)

with files from Bob Keating

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