Columbia River Treaty - Time to Talk
From its headwaters in British Columbia to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River is a mighty resource. It is the kingpin in our region’s hydro system, managed in part with our Canadian neighbors through the Columbia River Treaty. The Treaty, established in 1964, is an extraordinary model of international cooperation designed to fund construction of and provide 60 years of shared benefits from three Canadian dams and one U.S. project.
For half a century, the Treaty has provided coordinated flood control and power generation for Canada and the U.S. One stipulation of the Treaty beginning September 2014 is that either nation can issue a ten-year notice to terminate. This fall the U.S. Entity (Bonneville Power
Administration and the Corps of Engineers) which implements the Treaty plans to send recommendations to the U.S. State Department on the future of the Treaty. This recommendation will be integral in setting the stage for upcoming talks.
The region is arriving at a crossroads and we see a need for change with the Treaty. This is an opportunity to rebalance downstream power benefits. It could potentially increase the Northwest’s usable hydro production by hundreds of average megawatts, as well as affect power costs, system reliability, and river operations for fish and wildlife.
The common view is that the U.S. will have fully compensated Canada for their three Treaty dams at the end of 60 years. And going forward, the downstream power benefit should only be based on the value of coordinated water releases. There is still much to gain through coordinated operations beyond 2024. Studies indicate that on a yearly basis, coordinated releases are worth around 100 average megawatts. But on a monthly basis they could be worth over 1,000 average megawatts depending on the time of year and flow levels.
Renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty to capture this benefit is good for both nations. Hydropower is a carbon free dispatchable resource that should be maximized. The path to renegotiating the Treaty is to issue a notice of termination giving both nations the opportunity to start anew and properly realign the power benefits. The Treaty has provided considerable benefits since 1964. A renegotiation will ensure that these benefits continue for decades to come for both the U.S. and Canada.