RIVERS — Discussions on revising the Columbia River Treaty are picking up, as the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee plans a field hearing Monday, Dec. 9, in Pasco to learn about regional impacts of the treaty with Canada.
Changes in the treaty could have profound impacts on hydropower management and fishing.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, has concerns about the upcoming renegotiation of the treaty and the United States’ draft recommendations for possible changes.
He scheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. in the Pasco City Council Chambers, 525 N. Third Ave.
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“The Columbia River plays a vital role in our region’s economy, providing low-cost hydropower, irrigation and navigation,” Hastings said in a statement. “As the U.S. works through the future of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, it’s important that the treaty remains focused on the core functions of coordinated power generation and flood control.”
The treaty was prompted in part by a 1948 flood that destroyed Vanport — Oregon’s second largest city — because dams on the Columbia River had too little storage capacity. The treaty dams doubled that storage.
The treaty also was prompted by increased demand for electricity, which could be supplied by hydropower.
The treaty has no expiration date, but either Canada or the United States may end the pact in 2024, with a 10-year notice. As the deadline to give notice approaches next year, a draft recommendation has been prepared for the U.S.
The draft calls for expanding the traditional power and flood control interests of the treaty to include ecosystem concerns, such as protection of threatened and endangered species and global climate change impacts.
Climate change could affect the flow volume, timing and variability of the Columbia River in the next several decades, according to a statement submitted by Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineer officials at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this month.
They are leading a review of the treaty to make a recommendation to the U.S. Department of State.
The Columbia Basin Tribes Coalition would ideally like increased spring and summer flows and restoration of fish passage to historical habitats, according to information provided at the hearing by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
However, utilities are concerned about ecosystem changes that would reduce power production from dams on the Columbia River.
“The draft recommendation remains inappropriately vague in terms of proposed ecosystem function, inviting uncertainty about the effects on hydropower operations and existing environmental programs,” said a statement from the Washington Public Utility Districts Association.
The association wants the focus of negotiations to be on the “Canadian Entitlement,” Canada’s half-share of power produced downstream. BPA estimated if Canada had to replace that power it would cost $250 million to $350 million a year.
The entitlement is “vastly out of sync with current conditions, and returning the use of clean, renewable hydroelectricity to the Northwest, is clearly in the best interest of the United States,” according to the association’s statement submitted to the Senate committee.
“Striking a new power benefit sharing deal with Canada based on the actual benefits to both nations is the way to proceed,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. A deal that is fair to both countries could save Northwest ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
He also emphasized the importance of managing the Columbia River to protect endangered salmon, ensure flood protection and account for climate change after the Senate committee hearing.
Speakers for the House committee hearing in Pasco have not been announced. However, they are expected to include representatives of BPA, the Army Corps and public power and others representing local interests.