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:
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.
The United States and Canada are negotiating the Columbia River Treaty. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to help protect and restore the Columbia River. On September 6, the U.S. State Department will give you an opportunity to provide input. Please take time to attend this Town Hall meeting – for the River and life that depends on the River.
When: Sept 6, 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Where: Portland, Bonneville Power Administration’s Rates Hearing Room, 1201 Llyod Blvd, Suite 200 (across the street from the current BPA Building)
Below are suggested messages that may help you in developing your own personal message to deliver to the State Department’s negotiating team for the Columbia River Treaty:
(1) “Ecosystem-based Function” must be included as a new primary purpose of a new Columbia River Treaty – co-equal with power production and flood management. 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. The world watched as the mother orca Talequah carried her dead baby for 17 days 1,000 miles, calling attention to the starving orcas of Puget Sound — and once again underscoring the importance of Columbia River salmon.
(2) The River needs a voice during Treaty negotiations. The U.S. should add a representative for “ecosystem function” to the Treaty negotiating team.
(3) The U.S. and Canada have excluded tribes and First Nations from the negotiating teams — and this needs to be corrected. Under the laws of both countries it is clear this this Treaty impacts the shared resources held by tribes in the U.S., as well as those resources in Canada to which rights and title have not been extinguished.
(4) The River needs a voice during Treaty implementation. U.S. should add a new, third representative to the “U.S. Entity” that can represent the river’s ecosystem needs during treaty implementation.
The U.S. Entity today includes just two federal dam agencies – BPA and ACOE – neither has a record as a responsible steward of natural resources like wild salmon and steelhead, lamprey and other species. The U.S. Entity must include a new voice for the river and its health.
(5) Citizen input is needed. The U.S. should create an advisory committee to the U.S. Entity that allows stakeholders to understand and share information about the operation of the Treaty dams, and their impacts on communities and natural resources.
(6) Make informed decisions using a shared, transparent information base. Create a common analytic base between both nations and all those affected by re-establishing the collaborative modeling workgroup.
(7) We need best options for flood risk management. Residents in the greater Portland and Vancouver metropolitan area want to understand the costs, benefits and tradeoffs from today’s flood management strategies – as well as possible alternatives. In order to prepare, the U.S. Army Corps should conduct a basin-wide review of flood risk management.
For further Information, contact:
RSVP BEFORE and receive a free raffle ticket at the door.
“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
Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) presents this documentary about canoe journeys on the Upper Columbia River, using dugout canoes from 800-hundred-year-old cedar logs, and the emotional historic landing at Kettle Falls, among the world’s richest salmon-fishing sites flooded when Grand Coulee Dam was constructed.
DR Michel and John Sirois of UCUT will talk about work of tribes (US) and First Nations (Canada), including the need for Columbia River tribes to be at the negotiation table as the U.S. Dept of State re-negotiates with Canada the Columbia River Treaty. Negotiations began May 29 in Washington DC. We’ll have postcards to write/send to our Congressional representatives, asking them to hold accountable the State Department to give tribes a place at the table, and give a voice to the River and salmon. We hope to see you there.
More about “United by Water”
76 years after the Ceremony of Tears, and the last salmon at Kettle Falls – United by Water reaches back, reconnecting with time immemorial to help us unite together for the River and for salmon.
On June 14, 1940, thousands of Native Americans from throughout the Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls – thunderous waterfalls and one of the world’s richest salmon fishing sites – for a three-day “Ceremony of Tears” to mourn the loss of their ancestral fishing grounds, soon to be flooded by Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. “United by Water” documents the journey of five tribal communities to Kettle Falls, the fishing site of their ancestors, in the growing struggle to return salmon to the Upper Columbia and reclaim the lives and future for indigenous people.
The film, produced by the Upper Columbia United Tribes, headquartered in Spokane, shows breathtaking archival footage of the last salmon ceremony on the Columbia prior to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. It then documents the inspiring 2016 journey on the river – the building of the dugout canoes, the physical and spiritual journey on the Columbia River, and finally the emotional historic landing at Kettle Falls.
United by Water will show at Patagonia Seattle on July 12, 7 p.m.
Representatives from the Upper Columbia United Tribes who appear in the film, D.R. Michel and John Sirois, will speak after the screening about their work, the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, the impact of the dams on salmon, and the annual canoe journeys on the River, utilizing dug out canoes.
The award-winning documentary highlights the need to recognize the importance of reconnecting to the Columbia River and restoring salmon runs. Not only does the film bring attention to the historic wrongs that blocked salmon from the Upper Columbia River, but it shares the current efforts by UCUT and other tribes (US) and First Nations (Canada) to bring forward tribal traditions to help better understand what is lacking in our contemporary society. We need to forge a deeper connection to the waters that bring life to our communities.
The film comes at a critical time as the US government has begun renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty and indigenous nations are advocating to the U.S. State Department their rightful place at the negotiation table to give voice to the Columbia River, salmon, and people of the river.
Partners of this film screening include the Upper Columbia United Tribes, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Sierra Club’s Columbia River Future Project, Save Our Wild Salmon, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, and the Backbone Campaign. Admission is by donation to the Backbone Campaign, with no one turned away for lack of funds. Proceeds will help go to support the Tribes’ River Warriors project.
Film co-sponsored by:
News Release: May 23, 2018
Without warning, on Memorial Day 1948, a combination of heavy winter snowfall, warm temperatures, and spring rainfall sent torrents down the Columbia River, breaking through a railroad embankment serving as a levee, and destroying Oregon’s second largest city, Vanport, near Portland. Built in the floodplain of the Columbia River close to the confluence with the Willamette River, Vanport provided housing for thousands of low-income people. The floodwaters killed at least fifteen people, left 18,000 others homeless, and washed away the community.
The governments of the United States and Canada seized on the Vanport flood to promote a treaty that would authorize dams upstream in British Columbia and Montana, eventually forcing thousands of residents from their homes, and permanently flooding vast river valleys of the Upper Columbia River Basin. Particularly devastating for indigenous people who had lived in the Columbia River Valley for thousands of years was loss of burial grounds and cultural sites, compounding the loss of massive salmon runs caused by Grand Coulee dam. And now, on the 70th anniversary of the Vanport Flood, the United States and Canada are entering into negotiations to modernize that agreement known as the Columbia River Treaty.
“Recognizing the double tragedy impacting thousands of people in Vanport and subsequently in our Canadian and First Nations communities in the Upper Columbia River, we ask for a moment of silence on Memorial Day,” said Mindy Smith, a physician living near Trail, British Columbia. “We also ask that each Memorial Day going forward, we pause to remember and reflect on this double disaster and how people of the Basin are bound together by more than a treaty, but by our need and responsibility to seek equity of benefits and costs in river management.”
The Vanport Flood and its devastating consequences for the upper Columbia River Basin was the focus of a 2016 conference, One River – Ethics Matter, hosted by the University of Portland. This was part of the conference series of Columbia River reconciliation based on the 2001 Columbia River Pastoral Letter by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the international watershed. Highlights of the Portland conference focusing on the Vanport Flood can be viewed on a short film: Portland: One River – Ethics Matter.
“As negotiators for the United States and Canada prepare to sit down to discuss the future of the River, the double tragedy of the Vanport Flood needs to be remembered,” said Martin Carver of Nelson B.C. and coordinator of the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative. “With continued floodplain development in the Portland area and elsewhere, and with escalating risks from climate change, the scope of the floodplain problem going forward will only increase. Americans should not continue to rely on the devastation of upstream ecosystems and communities to allow for downstream floodplain development in Portland. That is fundamentally unjust and cannot be sustained.”
“The Columbia River is one river and ethics matter,” said John Osborn, physician and coordinator of the Columbia River Roundtable. “Past decisions have located people and structures in harm’s way by building in downriver floodplains while permanently flooding upriver valleys with dams and reservoirs – once biologically and culturally rich river valleys now wastelands. The Treaty dams are not going away. But we need to rethink dam management to improve river health and restore salmon runs while protecting communities. That is a compelling legacy of the Vanport Flood double tragedy.”
The moment of silence is scheduled for 4:05p.m. PDT on Memorial Day (U.S.) The next day, May 29, in Washington D.C., the United States and Canada will begin formal negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty. (link)
December 11, 2017 – For Immediate Release
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.”
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.
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.
News Advisory: For an evening event in Seattle on September 28, 2017
To contact Speakers:
“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)
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.
News Release – June 22, 2017
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.”