During my research, I’ve encountered a number of misunderstandings or factual errors about the Columbia River Treaty and its reviews. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions:
Misconception: The Treaty expires in 2024.
Reality: The Treaty will continue indefinitely unless one or both signatories terminate it (by following the proper protocols for termination). Certain provisions expire in 2024, such as annual 8.95 MAF of pre-paid flood storage in Canada. Other provisions, such as the ability to unilaterally terminate the Treaty after giving 10 years notice, come into effect in 2024. So some of the nuts and bolts of how the Treaty operates will change in 2024, but the agreement stands unless terminated. Even then, some pieces of the Treaty (specifically the Called Upon provisions) cannot be terminated.
Misconception: The US and Canada are renegotiating the Treaty.
Reality: The two countries are reviewing their options to decide whether or not to 1) continue with the Treaty as it evolves in 2024, 2) terminate the Treaty, or 3) modify it in some way. Their decisions may or may not lead to renegotiation. When thinking about the possibility of renegotiation, it is important to remember that any formal changes to the Treaty language would require ratification by the Canadian Parliament with concurrence from the Province of British Columbia as well as require the US Senate to pass a resolution to ratify the changes. Given politics in the two countries, it is unlikely that either country would like to pursue that option. There are other ways to change how the river is jointly managed by the two countries, such modifying Treaty operations through mutual agreement and developing separate supplemental agreements. These avenues have their own challenges and require some form of negotiation between the two countries. The specifics of how Called Upon will be implemented is one topic within the Treaty that the two countries need to discuss and come to agreement on, regardless of the two nation’s decisions on the Treaty.
Misconception: The deadline to give notice to terminate the Treaty is September 16, 2014.
Reality: September 16, 2014 is the earliest date for either Canada or the US to give notice to the other country if they want to unilaterally terminate the Treaty as soon as possible. If they wanted to, the two countries could mutually terminate or modify the Treaty today. Each country can also give the 10 years notice to unilaterally terminate the Treaty any day after September 16, 2014 (and thus the Treaty would end 10 years after that date of notification).
Some interests are calling for termination at the earliest possible date as they believe it may be in their best interest for the Treaty to end as soon as possible. For example, the Columbia River Treaty Power Group believes that the current calculation of the Canadian Entitlement is inequitable (specifically that the US is over-delivering) and if that issue is not addressed then Treaty termination on September 16, 2024 (so notification on September 16, 2014) will stop delivery of the Canadian Entitlement at the earliest possible date.
Misconception: The Canadian Entitlement is money the US pays Canada for the additional downstream power benefits resulting from Treaty operations.
Reality: The Canadian Entitlement is energy* and capacity* that the US delivers at the border. Utilities in the US bought the first 30 years of the Canadian Entitlement and now Powerex sells the energy at market value to either BC Hydro or utilities in Alberta or US. The revenue earned from selling the energy goes into BC’s general revenue account. We often use the revenue dollar value (or the range of dollar values over the years) to talk about the Canadian Entitlement because it is a number that most people find easy to comprehend and put in context with other values. The Canadian Entitlement can be a little confusing and is a source of disagreement among various interests. I’m working on a blog post to explain what the Canadian Entitlement is, why US and Canadian interests assign it different values, and what different groups have to say about it–so keep your eyes out for that in the coming weeks.
*Energy is power/electricity, most often measured in megawatts. Capacity is the ability to generate or transmit electricity and for the Canadian Entitlement it is the maximum amount of power that Canada can request be delivered over a single hour.
If you want to learn more about the Columbia River Treaty or check your facts, I suggest reviewing the references on the Treaty Basics page. Also, the Columbia Basin Trust has a great site for “Quick Facts,” and the BC CRT Review has a nice “Frequently Asked Questions” page of their website. Both are great places to get answers to your Treaty questions.