Columbia River Calling

Treaty Basics

If you are unfamiliar with the Columbia River Treaty (CRT or Treaty) and its reviews, let’s bring you up to speed.  Below are some excerpts from a case study I wrote for the US Army Corps of Engineers for a project they were completing for Brazil’s Agencia Nacional de Aguas (ANA).

The Columbia River basin (CRB) is an international basin shared between the United States and Canada. Seven states and one Canadian province have land within the basin, which covers an area of 259,500 mi2 or 668,000 km2. The average annual flow of the Columbia River at its mouth is 198 million acre-feet (MAF). In response to a series of flood events as well as to foster hydroelectric development, the US and Canada ratified the Columbia River Treaty in 1964. The intent was to maximize flood control and hydropower benefits received on both sides of the US-Canada border. The Treaty authorized construction of four dams: Mica Dam, Hugh Keenleyside Dam, and Duncan Dam in Canada as well as Libby Dam in the US (Montana). To ensure equal sharing of downstream benefits the US paid Canada $64.4 million at treaty ratification for assured flood control for expected avoidance of flood damages through 2024. Each year the US also returns to Canada 50% of the calculated (or potential annual additional)  downstream power benefits, known as the Canadian Entitlement, in the form of energy and capacity. These downstream power benefits are “the difference in the hydroelectric power capable of being generated in the United States of America with and without the use of Canadian storage” (CRT Article VII). The value of the Canadian Entitlement is estimated to range from $100 to $350 million per year.

While the Treaty continues indefinitely, some of its flood control provisions will expire in 2024 and others will come into effect. First, flood control operations shift from assured flood control for 8.95 MAF of storage in Canada to “Called Upon” flood control through which the US can request and pay for emergency storage to prevent flooding after it has utilized its own storage. Second, either nation can choose to unilaterally terminate the treaty with ten years’ advance notice. Therefore, if either nation wanted to terminate the CRT in 2024 (the earliest date to do so), the US or Canada would need to give notice of its intent by September 16, 2014 (though they can do so later and just have the CRT end later).

This “deadline” provided both nations with the opportunity to consider a change in governance of the Columbia River. The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) led the US CRT 2014/2024 Review process to develop a recommendation to the Department of State. The Province of BC’s Ministry of Energy and Mines conducted its own investigation (which I call the BC CRT Review) in order to provide a recommendation to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development. The US Entity delivered its recommendation in December 2013 and the Province of BC delivered its recommendation in March 2014. Both recommend continuing with the CRT and modifying it. Where the two differ is what issues should be considered in modifying the Treaty.

In future posts I will dive deeper into the topics mentioned above including the Canadian Entitlement, what the two countries recommend modifying in the CRT (or it’s implementation), the discussion around Called Upon and “effective use,” what happened during the two reviews, and updates on the Treaty.

If you want to read more about the CRT, I recommend starting with the following resources:

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