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Columbia River Treaty Stakeholder Meeting Tomorrow in Anticipation of Key 2014 Date

October 12, 2011

The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) was ratified in 1964, and provides for Canada and the United States to jointly regulate and manage the Columbia River as it flows from British Columbia into the U.S. The implementing agents of the CRT in the U.S. are the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The main benefits of the treaty are flood control and power generation.

More specifically, implementation of the CRT required Canada to build and operate three dams on the Columbia River and a tributary, the Duncan River, and allowed the U.S. to construct Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana. The CRT requires Canada to operate a specified minimum amount of storage to minimize flood damage in Canada and the U.S. The storage provided by the dams also enables streamflow to be increased in months where power is more valuable. The downstream power benefits in the U.S. resulting from operation of the Canadian storage are shared equally between the two countries pursuant to the CRT. Since its implementation, difficulties have arisen regarding calculation of the Canadian entitlement, diversions allowed before the Columbia reaches the border, and protections for endangered species in the U.S.

While there is no termination date to the CRT, it contains two major provisions that take effect on and after September 16, 2024. These provisions are: (1) the Canadian flood control obligation automatically changes from a pre-determined annual operation to a “called upon” determination and (2) Canada or the U.S. can terminate the majority of the CRT’s provisions beginning in 2024, with a minimum 10-years advance notice. Thus, September 16, 2014 is the latest either country could provide notice of intent to terminate in 2024.

In anticipation of these upcoming key dates, the U.S. and Canadian implementing entities have begun a joint phased effort to model and analyze the potential post-2024 implications. The first step of this process was preparation of a Phase I report, which was published in July of 2010. The purpose of the Phase I study was to provide an analysis of post-2024 conditions both with and without the current treaty. While the Phase I study provided some insight into the impact of the potential changes in 2024 on flood control and hydro power production, it left many questions unanswered. Suggestions for additional studies include: further analyzing the “called upon” flood control provision, including the economics of the provision; how to optimize energy production; the potential impact of climate change on flows; and an evaluation of other potential factors to consider including impacts to fisheries, wildlife habitat, recreation, irrigation, cultural resources, water supply, water quality, and navigation.

Tomorrow, BPA and the Army Corps will be holding a Stakeholder Meeting in Boise, Idaho with an option to call-in. This is considered a critical stage in review of the CRT. The meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the possible alternatives that will be subject to further modeling and analysis. The implementing entities have posted a presentation that will be provided at the meeting. A form is also available for stakeholders to submit comments via email.

The potential impacts of a major change to the treaty are vast and could affect millions of people and various interests, both in the U.S. and in Canada. The phased approach to analysis will hopefully allow the U.S. to analyze the potential impacts of treaty termination or it may emphasize the need for modifications.

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