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U.S. Plans to Recommend Changes to Columbia River Treaty: Comments due Friday, October 25, on Draft Regional Recommendation

October 23, 2013

The United States is expected to propose changes to the Columbia River Treaty amid ongoing negotiations. The U.S. Entity, consisting of the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwestern Division Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, released draft recommendations on September 20, 2013 proposing that modernizing the Treaty after 2024 will provide greater benefits to the region.

As discussed in an earlier post, the Columbia River Treaty is currently under a multi-year review. As part of this process, the U.S. Entity is engaged in a multi-year regional discussion regarding resource management issues associated with the Columbia River. It has undertaken a series of studies regarding current and potential operations under the Treaty. The U.S. Entity’s goal is to present recommendations with broad regional support to the U.S. Department of State by the end of 2013. The recommendations identify elements that the Pacific Northwest would like the Department of State to pursue in its negotiations with Canada. The potential impacts of a major change to the treaty are vast and could affect millions of people and various interests, in both the U.S. and Canada.

The draft recommendation is a key step in this process of identifying and analyzing benefits of and potential improvements to the Treaty. In it, the U.S. Entity acknowledges the Treaty’s immense benefits including flood control and assured streamflows to support the region’s hydropower system.  It also identifies a number of changes that may benefit the Region. Since the time the Treaty was first negotiated in the 1960s, the region has gone through changes that warrant revisions. As summarized in the U.S. Entity’s cover letter, the draft recommendation envisions the revised Treaty will:

  • Better address the region’s need for a reliable and economically sustainable hydropower system;
  • Continue to provide a similar level of flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;
  • Include ecosystem-based function as a third primary purpose of the Treaty, to ensure a more comprehensive approach throughout the Columbia Basin watershed; and
  • Create the flexibility within the Treaty that is necessary to respond to climate change, changing water supply needs, and other future potential changes in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as navigation.

The future management of the Columbia River is crucial to everyone in the region, with potentially significant impacts on natural resource management and agriculture. A final recommendation to the U.S. Department of State is planned for mid-December of this year. The deadline for submitting comments on the draft recommendation is Friday, October 25. Comments can be submitted on-line by visiting: or by mail to BPA, P.O. Box 14428, Portland, OR 97293-4428. To view comments submitted to date, click here.

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