Columbia River Treaty Negotiating Team out of step with Northwest Values

Sept 6 in Portland:

Northwest residents encouraged to speak with U.S. State Department at “Town Hall” meeting on future of the Columbia River and Treaty

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A broad coalition of conservation, sports, and fishing organizations today delivered a letter to the State Department asking for important changes to the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, which the United States and Canada are currently renegotiating. They are also encouraging residents to speak on behalf of the Columbia River’s future at a State Department “Townhall meeting” to be held in Portland on September 6, 5:30-7 p.m., at the Bonneville Power Administration.

“The renegotiation of the treaty offers a unique opportunity to improve conditions in the river by ensuring treaty dams are operated to provide sufficient flows for the express purpose of helping salmon and the river’s ecosystem,” said Greg Haller, Executive Director for Pacific Rivers. “River health, ‘Ecosystem-based function’ needs to be added to the Columbia River Treaty, co-equal with the two existing primary purposes of the treaty: hydropower production and flood risk management. Millions of residents and electrical ratepayers expect balanced management of the region’s hydroelectric facilities to ensure salmon populations recover and thrive. The treaty is an important prong of a basin-wide strategy for salmon recovery and we are asking the State Department for a course correction to improve river conditions in the U.S. and Canada for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people.”

In a letter sent to the lead negotiator, Jill Smail, U.S. Department of State, the requests include:

  • Protect and enhance the immense value of the Columbia Basin ecosystem by recognizing it as an authorized purpose of a modernized treaty, co-equal with flood risk management and hydropower generation.
  • Expand the group that oversees Treaty implementation, called the “U.S. Entity” to include appropriate representation for ecosystem function. Now the U.S. Entity consists only of Bonneville Power Administration (hydropower) and the Army Corps of Engineers (flood risk management).
  • Create advisory committees of affected stakeholders and sovereigns to support the U.S. Entity in treaty implementation.
  • Reform the U.S. negotiating team to ensure balanced representation of the issues involved, including giving a voice to Ecosystem-based Function.
  • Support a review of flood risk management that is essential for better managing the system of dams to protect river health while protecting Portland and Vancouver, Washington.
  • Restore the bi-national Collaborative Modeling Workgroup to establish a shared information based so that both nations together can make informed decisions about the Columbia River.  

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 resulted in building four major dams, three in British Columbia and one in Montana. 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.

“For 17 days the world watched as the mother orca Talequah carrying her dead calf for a thousand miles, reminding us how precious and fragile is life that depends on Columbia River salmon,” said John Osborn, a physician who coordinates Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project. “River temperatures are rising, returning salmon face ever more massive die-offs, glaciers are melting and forests are burning. In this time of climate change we call upon the State Department to represent the values of the people of the Northwest in protecting and restoring the Columbia River. Water is life. ”

At its heart, Ecosystem-based Function is a way to achieve a healthier river and healthier fish and wildlife populations. It means operational changes that provide additional water during low and moderate flow years in the spring and summer to increase survival of juvenile salmon migrating downstream to the Pacific Ocean. It also includes fish passage and reintroduction of salmon above Grand Coulee Dam and into Canada, and to stop using the Upper Columbia River as a sacrifice zone.

More about the U.S. State Department’s Town Hall meeting in Portland:

The Columbia River Treaty Town Hall meeting is open to the public, and will take place in Portland at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Rates Hearing Room 1201 Llyod Blvd, Suite 200 (11th Avenue/Holladay Park Max light rail stop), from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.  This Townhall will follow the August 15–16 round of negotiations on the Treaty regime in British Columbia and take place in advance of the October 17–18 round of negotiations in Portland, Oregon.  For more information on the Town Hall, including call-in details, please see the Federal Register Notice.

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