Negotiating Columbia River Treaty to begin in early 2018

Conservation, fishing and faith groups applaud announcement

December 11, 2017  –  For Immediate Release

Contact:

  • Greg Haller, Conservation Director at Pacific Rivers   greg@pacificrivers.org
  • Joseph Bogaard, Executive Director at Save our Wild Salmon Coalition  joseph@wildsalmon.org

On December 7th the U.S. Department of State announced that formal negotiations with Canada over the fate of the fifty-three year old U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty will begin in early 2018.

A broad coalition of conservation, fishing and religious organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents, hailed the announcement.

“Conservation and fishing groups are encouraged that the two countries are moving forward with Treaty negotiations. Modernizing the Treaty to improve the health of the river and communities on both sides of the border is not just an opportunity, but also a critical need given the challenges salmon face in the 21st century,” said Samantha (Sam) Mace of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition.

The Columbia River Treaty was originally ratified in 1964 to reduce the risk of floods in downstream cities like Portland, Oregon and to develop additional hydropower capacity. The Treaty accomplished these goals through the construction of three large storage reservoirs in British Columbia (Duncan, Mica and Keenleyside), which added 15.5 million acre-feet of storage capacity. Canada built Mica Dam larger than the Treaty required, adding another 5 million acre feet of non-Treaty storage for power production.

The Treaty also spurred the construction of Libby Dam in Montana, which added an additional 5 million acre feet flood storage space and hydropower capacity. All told, these projects doubled the storage capacity of the basin – and dramatically reduced the river’s natural spring flows. Notably, consideration of the health of the Columbia River and its fish and wildlife populations were not included in the original Treaty. Not only did the construction of the dams result in the displacement of people, economies and cultures as a result of permanently flooded lands, it had a profound effect on salmon and other fish and wildlife species – and the communities that rely on them – on both sides of the border.

While the Treaty has no formal end date, provisions that govern joint flood risk management operations are set to expire in 2024, which would have major ramifications for how reservoirs in the U.S. part of the basin are managed.  Additionally, U.S.-based utilities are keen to reduce the amount of power they deliver to Canada each year as required by the Treaty.

Conservation, fishing and faith organizations, on the other hand, view the pending negotiations as an opportunity to include “ecosystem-based function” – or health of the river – as a formal component of a modernized Treaty, on equal footing with flood risk management and hydropower production. Including ecosystem-based function would mean improved river flows to aid salmon’s out-migration to the ocean and improve water quality. It would also mean improved fish passage and reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into areas made inaccessible to salmon by dams in the U.S. and Canada.

Treaty modernization also creates an opportunity to improve the governance of the Treaty to allow a more transparent and inclusive process for negotiations and implementation.

“The Columbia River Treaty is often hailed as a model of transboundary river management. Adding ecosystem-based function and ensuring the governance of the river is transparent and inclusive will truly make the Treaty a model for international river management in the 21st Century”, said Greg Haller of Pacific Rivers. “We aim to prod both countries to achieve that goal.”

Links –



U.S. State Department:

Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty Regime

  • Media Note
  • Office of the Spokesperson
  • Washington, DC
  • December 7, 2017

The United States and Canada will begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018. Certain provisions of the Treaty—a model of transboundary natural resource cooperation since 1964—are set to expire in 2024.

The Columbia River’s drainage basin is roughly the size of France and includes parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and British Columbia. The Treaty’s flood risk and hydropower operations provide substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border. The Treaty has also facilitated additional benefits such as supporting the river’s ecosystem, irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation.

For further information, please email WHAPress@state.gov.

https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/12/276354.htm


Washington Water Watch: November Edition

In this issue, an article on recent victory in court on the Leavenworth Hatchery Clean Water Act Case, a story on CELP’s founding director, Rachael Osborn, being recognized by AWRA-WA with their award for Outstanding Contribution to Water Resources, a welcome to CELP’s newest staff member, Emma Kilkelly, information about our December CLE, and more.

Read the November edition of Washington Water Watch here.


Healing the Columbia River

News Advisory:   For an evening event in Seattle on September 28, 2017

Healing the Columbia River

An evening to discuss modernizing an international river Treaty

to sustain a river and its people in the 21st Century

To contact Speakers:

Event Contact:

Quotes:

“Tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada suffered profound damage and loss from Columbia and Snake River dams.  Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty is a critical opportunity for Canada and the United States to join together in acknowledging damage done, right historic wrongs, and commit to stewardship of this great river in the face of climate change.”     John Sirois, Upper Columbia United Tribes, Committee Coordinator

“The Columbia River Treaty is a template for taking without giving anything in return. Many people are unaware of the great harm caused to ecosystems and human culture in British Columbia. We are at a turning moment, one asking us to form a reciprocal relationship to heal the river.”  – Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, author, A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change

“Our faith teaches us that the Columbia River is not a machine to be used up and thrown away.  Instead it is a sacramental commons, a gift from God, valuable in itself as a living entity.  We can take fish from the River for the benefit of the people, especially Native communities, as long as we do not destroy that which sustains its life.  The well-being of the salmon, especially, is central to the health of the River and of our common home.”  – The Rev. John Rosenberg, ordained pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

“The Upper Columbia River has – and continues to be – the most impacted and least mitigated by dam-building in the Columbia River Basin. As Columbia River Treaty assessments continue, it is essential that sustainable natural-capital value be given serious consideration in actions that impact the river. We must take this opportunity to modernize the Columbia River Treaty for the benefit of all.”  D.R. Michel Upper Columbia United Tribes, Executive Director


What:  These four people will share their unique perspectives and stories about how the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty has impacted river communities and offer their insights into what an updated, modernized Columbia River Treaty must do to right historic wrongs — sustaining and restoring the Columbia River and the people who rely on the river in this time of climate change.

Fifty years ago, the United States and Canada ratified the Columbia River Treaty to jointly manage hydropower production and flood management.  Our region’s dam-building era, of which the Treaty is a cornerstone, has delivered important benefits to the Northwest – including Seattle.  But the Treaty has also caused catastrophic harm to the river’s health, and communities on both sides of the international border.

Where:  Seattle Mountaineers Building
7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA

When:  5:30 – reception with light appetizers and drinks; 6:30 – 8:30 three speakers and panel discussion/audience questions; event concludes at 9:00

Suggested donation $5 (donations to cover our costs are gratefully accepted)

RSVP:  healingthecolumbia.eventbrite.com

Additional Links:


Watersheds to Watch: WRIA 29a – Wind River

by Elan Ebeling

WRIA 29a, known as the Wind watershed area, is located in southwestern Washington along the Columbia River, southwest of Mt. Adams. Although the Wind watershed was originally paired with the White Salmon watershed and collectively classified as WRIA 29, the initial planning unit disbanded due to disagreements in 2005. Subsequently, WRIA 29 was split into two separate sub-basin WRIAs, with WRIA 29a encompassing the western half including the Wind watershed and surrounding creeks and streams, and WRIA 29b containing the eastern White Salmon sub-basin area. The WRIA 29a Wind sub-basin includes the Wind and Little White Salmon Rivers, Trout, Panther, Brush, and Rock Creeks, as well as many small tributaries to the Columbia River. These waterways contain populations of Steelhead, Coho, Chum, Chinook, trout, and Pacific lamprey, five of which are listed under the ESA as endangered or threatened.

Although the area is relatively sparsely populated (the largest population centers are the cities of Stevenson and Carson at a combined population of under 4,000), according to the Department of Ecology’s 2012 Focus on Water Availability report WRIA 29 is among the most densely farmed basins in southwestern Washington. Furthermore, expected population increases particularly in the city of Stevenson combined with growing tourism from the burgeoning urban centers of Vancouver and Portland have put a strain on the region’s water resources.

In addition to the concerns of meeting water demands of a growing population, sufficient water is also needed to protect instream resources. The 2005 Watershed Management Plan for WRIA 29a identified high water temperatures on the Wind River and Little White Salmon River and high sediment deposits throughout the basin as specific impediments to threatened salmon runs. Climate models predict reduced snowpack throughout the region leading to lower summer flows and peak flows occurring earlier in the season, which will adversely affect vital fish habitat.

Although the 2005 plan acknowledged the necessity of an instream flow rule to safeguard threatened fish runs against the impacts climate change, it stated the need for more data to be collected on stream flow levels and recommended several studies and the placement of flow gauges. Over the next decade, sufficient data were accumulated via stream flow studies for the planning unit to recommend specific numbers for instream flow rulemaking on several waterways in the basin in the group’s 2015 Detailed Implementation Plan (DIP). In addition, the DIP also proposed the creation of several reservations to meet future water needs of local communities that would have priority over instream flow rules. Due to recent Washington State water case law, however (particularly the 2013 Swinomish v. Ecology decision), a different approach may be needed.  To protect instream flows, schemes for mitigation of new water use should be included in any new proposal.

The concerns of climate change and threatened fish runs are urgent, and conditions will only worsen without meaningful regulation. As a WRIA containing mid-Columbia River tributary rivers and streams, the Wind watershed is crucial for threatened Columbia River salmon and steelhead. CELP urges Ecology to take action to protect vital instream resources by beginning the rulemaking process for WRIA 29a.

If you are interested in helping to secure protections for the Wind watershed, please email CELP at contact@celp.org.


Washington Water Watch: June 2017 Edition

In this issue, find pictures of our recent Celebrate Water event, an update on the Spokane River rule, links to CELP’s Columbia River Treaty media and document library, and an opportunity to speak up for the Hanford Reach National Monument!

Read the June issue of Water Watch here.


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.”

Links –

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Protecting Spokane River summertime flows goes to court

News Advisory – Court hearing on June 9

Contacts:

  • Dan Von Seggern, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (206) 829-8299, dvonseggern@celp.org
  • Andrew Hawley, Western Environmental Law Center, (206) 487-7250, hawley@westernlaw.org
  • John Roskelley, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, (509) 954-5653 john@johnroskelley.com
  • Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater, (425) 417-9012 okeefe@americanwhitewater.org
  • Tom Soeldner, Sierra Club, Upper Columbia River Group, (509) 270-6995 waltsoe@gmail.com

Next step in process essential for future of river and Spokane community

Issue: When water is flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months, should the River’s water be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use and river fish and wildlife — or should it be available to be taken from the River by the State Dept of Ecology through the granting of water rights?

State court: Thurston County Superior Court, Hon. James Dixon, Judge.

Where: Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive, Olympia

When: Friday, June 9 1:30 PM.

Spokane River issues before the court

The beloved Spokane River flows through the second largest city in Washington state, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the River to support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates asking the Court to hold the Department of Ecology to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic, aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows allowable for the Spokane River.

Overwhelming public support…ignored

Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and aesthetic inventories, were submitted to the Department of Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. In setting instream flows, the Department of Ecology’s decision failed to take into account boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on Spokane River recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

Overall the state agency ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (CFS) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.

Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River

River advocates retained Dr. Doug Whittaker and Dr. Bo Shelby, experts in recreation and aesthetic flows from Confluence Research and Consulting, to evaluate appropriate flows. Dr. Shelby and Dr. Whittaker participated in establishing aesthetic flows for Spokane Falls, and are the foremost national experts on flows. They concluded that the Department of Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river. Higher flows in the Spokane River, when available, should be protected.

Fish need water

Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. The Department of Ecology erred in concluding that more water is bad for fish, thereby justifying its decision not to protect Spokane River flows. In response, petitioners submitted a report prepared by Prof. Allan Scholz, retired Eastern Washington University fisheries biologist and professor. (Prof. Scholz is author of a multivolume treatise on Eastern Washington fisheries, and is one of the foremost experts on Spokane River redband trout.)

Prof. Scholz determined that the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 CFS – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the scientific study prepared in support of the rate was flawed. The Department of Ecology could have accommodated the needs of river recreationists and fish without sacrificing fish.

Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

Flows not protected in the flow rule are flows lost to the river

The Department of Ecology has a duty under state law and the public trust doctrine to adopt flows that are fully protective of all public instream values, including fish and wildlife, recreation, navigation, water quality, and scenic beauty. Again, flows that are not protected are at risk to be diverted from the Spokane River for out-of-stream water uses, including Idaho pumpers, the city of Spokane, and the office of the Columbia River’s Spokane-Rathdrum ASR project.

Appellants are Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Dan Von Seggern (CELP) and  Andrew Hawley (WELC).

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Washington Water Watch: May 2017 Edition

In this issue, read about our upcoming Celebrate Water event and a bio of the Ralph Johnson awardee, John Osborn, meet our summer legal intern, learn about our latest victory on Icicle Creek, a recap on the Revelstoke, B.C. One River – Ethics Matter conference, and enjoy an update on the culvert case!

Read the May issue of Water Watch here.


Revelstoke B.C. hosts 4th annual One River – Ethics Matter conference

“The River is sacred.  People will put aside their differences when it comes to the River and bringing back the salmon.”
– the late Virgil Seymour (1958 – 2016) Arrow Lakes (Sinixt) Facilitator for The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

The May 13 “One River – Ethics Matter” conference opened with a welcome and call from Revelstoke’s Mayor, Mark McKee, for all people to work together on behalf of the Columbia River.  The day was truly remarkable for bringing together Upper Columbia River Basin’s First Nations, religious leaders, and community leaders and volunteers in respectful dialogue on the past and future of the Columbia River.

Free-flowing Columbia River, at Revelstoke B.C. – site of the 4th in the series of international conferences, “One River – Ethics Matter.” Prior conferences were held in Spokane, Portland, and Boise. In 2018, the fifth conference will be in Montana.

Some of the more memorable messages:

  • We do this work – returning the salmon and restoring the waters of the Upper Columbia – for our kids.
  • Indigenous people have been here from time immemorial, and we’ll continue to be here forever.
  • Churches and houses of worship are also symbols of community – and destroying or moving churches with the Treaty dams underscored the wrenching impacts on the people of the Upper Columbia.
  • Indigenous language carries meaning that is deeply important.
  • C. public schools have made major advances in environmental education.
  • All of us need more water rituals in our daily lives.
  • We all need to work together for the River and return of salmon.

First Nation and tribal leadership included Bonnie Leonard (Secwepemc), Sandra Luke (Ktunaxa), Chief Chad Eneas and Rosalie Wilson-Yazzie (Okanagan Nation Alliance), and D.R. Michel (Sinixt, Upper Columbia United Tribes), along with policy experts Bill Green (Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission) and Jay Johnson (Okanagan Nation Alliance).

Faith leadership included Anglican Archbishop John Privett, Roman Catholic Bishop John Corriveau, and Rev. Greg Powell of the Kootenay Presbytery.

Scholars and educators included Jeannette Armstrong (En’owkin Centre, Syilx scholar), Angus Graeme (President, Selkirk College), and Ariel McDowell (Principal of Aboriginal Education, School District 19).

This is the fourth in a conference series entitled “One River – Ethics Matter” that examines the moral dimensions of the dam-building era with a focus on First Nations (Canada) and Indian tribes (U.S.), and the river and life that depends on the river.

Earlier conferences explored the profound effects of dams from Grand Coulee upstream on tribes and First Nations; how protecting flood plain settlement and development in the Portland area has come at the cost of permanently flooding river valleys and native homelands upstream; and re-licensing of Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Complex of dams to provide passage for salmon now blocked from returning to the upper Snake River.  The Revelstoke conference focused on the catastrophic change that came with permanently flooding the immense river valleys of interior British Columbia as part of the Columbia River Treaty ratified in 1964.

The One River – Ethics Matter conference series is coordinated by the Ethics & Treaty Project.  The project is jointly hosted by CELP and Sierra Club.

Additional Revelstoke Links

Revelstoke Conference hosts:

North Columbia Environmental Society, Mir Centre for Peace, Selkirk College, Okanagan College Faculty Association

Revelstoke Conference sponsors:

Joan Craig, MD * Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson * Archbishop John Privett, Anglican Diocese of Kootenay * Ktunaxa Nation Council * Upper Columbia United Tribes * Laurie Arnold PhD * North Columbia Environmental Society * Sierra Club BC * Yellowstone to Yukon * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southwestern Washington Synod * Citizens for a Clean Columbia * Columbia Institute for Water Policy * Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Washington State Chapter * Sierra Club, Washington State Chapter * Tom Soeldner & Linda Finney * Center for Environmental Law & Policy * Rachael & John Osborn