Northwest, British Columbia need to stand together to modernize the Columbia River Treaty

News Release – June 22, 2017

Conservation and faith groups respond to seven NW Members of Congress:

Yes – negotiations need to move forward – but include restoring the Columbia’s health and avoid threatening Canada with treaty termination.  

Contacts –

Portland – Responding to a letter to President Trump signed by seven Members of Congress (MOCs) from the Northwest, today Northwest conservation and faith groups encouraged the United States to work for restoring the health of the Columbia and avoid threatening Canada with termination of the Columbia River Treaty. The United States currently has the authority to begin negotiations but the federal government in Canada has not finalized its position. The provincial elections in British Columbia and efforts to install Provincial leadership in the wake of the tight vote last month have also contributed to the delay in finalizing the Canadian federal government’s position.

“The people of the Columbia River Basin – in both nations – can ‘hang together or hang separately,’” said Joseph Bogaard of Save Our wild Salmon.  “We support moving forward to negotiate a modern Columbia River Treaty. But terminating the Treaty, or threatening to do so, is counter-productive. Our leaders in both nations need to work together, in good faith, to manage the Columbia River for the Common Good.”

The Columbia River is an international river managed jointly by the United States and Canada using the Columbia River Treaty. The Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin is water rich, comprising only about 15 percent of the Basin’s land area, but producing about 40 percent of the River Basin’s water. Two centuries ago when Lewis & Clark and David Thompson first greeted indigenous people of the river basin, the Columbia was among the richest salmon rivers on earth. Since then, large dams and reservoirs have transformed the river into an integrated hydropower system.

On June 21, seven members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump, outlining the history of the Columbia River Treaty, encouraging treaty negotiation and threatening treaty termination. The MOC letter does not include several important historical elements, including that communities in the Columbia Basin, especially tribes and First Nations, were never consulted in writing the international river treaty. Nor does the MOC letter mention that the benefits of damming the Columbia River for hydropower and flood risk management came with wrenching costs to salmon and people who depend on the river.

“The United States has come a very long way to try work with Canada to right historic wrongs and support river stewardship,” said John Osborn, a Northwest physician with the Ethics & Treaty Project. “We continue to encourage the Treaty Power Group and elected officials that the way forward is working in good faith and through respectful dialogue with our neighbors to the north to promote the Common Good — including river stewardship and passage for salmon now blocked by dams.”

In 2013 following years of discussions and thousands of letters from concerned citizens, federal agencies recommended that the State Department include restoring the river’s health (“Ecosystem Management”) as a primary purpose of an updated treaty, along with hydropower and flood control. All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation.  In 2016 the United States began encouraging Canada to negotiate.

“Citizens of the Columbia Basin care about power bills but also care about stewardship, social justice, and advancing the Common Good,” said The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner, a retired Lutheran minister and educator. “Threatening Canada with treaty termination carries great risks to all life in the Basin now and into the future — including deep drawdowns of U.S. reservoirs in Idaho and elsewhere in the Basin, which will negatively affect the Columbia River ecosystem and power generation.”

The Treaty Power Group’s, and some congressional members’ willingness to threaten termination is short-sighted and undermines the goodwill and constructive approach that is needed to address the full range of issues that must be addressed in a modern river treaty. If the Treaty is terminated, then the U.S. will be required to shoulder the entire burden of flood risk management with U.S. dams, with no assistance from assured flood storage from Canada. This will cost the U.S. billions of dollars in flood protection and recompense from its own dams — and destroy coordinated and cooperative U.S. and Canada flood risk management that has existed as an international model for more than 50 years.

“Protecting and restoring healthy salmon populations in the Columbia Basin represents an unparalleled opportunity for our region to invest in the economy, create family-wage jobs and improve our quality of life and the health of our environment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council. “Healthy salmon populations deliver valuable and irreplaceable benefits to our region’s economy and ecology including thousands of jobs in guiding, retail sales, manufacturing, tourism, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

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