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The United States and Canada began negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty regime in May 2018. For details on the negotiation process including town halls and enquiry contact information, see the U.S. Department of State. The Columbia River’s drainage basin is roughly the size of Texas and includes parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and British Columbia. The Treaty’s hydropower operations and management of flood risk provide substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border. The Treaty also has facilitated additional benefits such as supporting irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation. Treaty-related agreements also allow for flow augmentation for ecosystem benefits.
Further, the Treaty serves as the impetus for a non-treaty storage agreement. When Canada built its Treaty-required dams in the 1970s, it chose to construct more water storage than was required by the Treaty. The additional water storage is termed non-Treaty storage because it is not operated under terms of the Treaty and access to this storage is obtained only through negotiation of operational agreements that provide mutual benefits to the BPA and BC Hydro. The Treaty Entities ensure that use of this storage does not reduce the flood control and power benefits under the Treaty.
History and Background
Signed in 1961, the Columbia River Treaty calls for two “entities” to be designated to implement arrangements under the Treaty — a U.S. Entity and a Canadian Entity. The U.S. Entity, designated by the President, consists of the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (chair) and the Northwestern Division Engineer (member) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Canadian Entity, appointed by the Canadian Federal Cabinet, is the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (B.C. Hydro).
The year 2024 is a significant date for the Treaty, as the current flood risk management provisions change to a less-defined approach. In addition, it is the earliest date at which the Treaty can be terminated, provided that either Canada or the United States provides ten years’ written notice.
The U.S. Entity forwarded its recommendation concerning the future of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada to the U.S. Department of State on December 13, 2013. Known as the “Regional Recommendation,” the U.S. Entity developed this recommendation in collaboration and consultation with the region through an extensive, multi-year Columbia River Treaty Review. The constructive involvement of the region’s states, federally recognized tribes, and hundreds of stakeholders helped the U.S. Entity reach this important milestone. With the conclusion of the Regional Recommendation process, the U.S. government conducted a review concerning the post-2024 future of the Treaty. (See also the cover letter sent to the U.S. Department of State regarding the Regional Recommendation.)