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Collaborate on new treaty

Since 1964, the [Columbia River] treaty has governed international management of the watershed. [Tom] Karier ridicules the State Department for failing to terminate an agreement providing Canada “hundreds of millions of dollars a year for … essentially nothing in return.” (“Time to negotiate a new Columbia River Treaty,” April 25)

The problem with this argument? It’s not true.

While it may be true utilities overpay Canada for power benefits under current treaty protocols, they exaggerate this imbalance. Still worse, they mislead readers to believe termination is a simple solution to satisfy all American interests. The reality is more complicated.

First, as the downstream party, the U.S. needs Canada more than Canada needs the U.S. Only 15% of the watershed is in Canada, but it generates 35% of the system’s average flow and nearly half of its floodwaters. Without Canadian treaty services, Grand Coulee Dam (and others) will be forced to make painful compromises in balancing competing purposes: hydropower, salmon recovery, flood control, irrigation, and recreation. With climate change, the U.S. is likely to see higher temperatures and rain instead of snow, making Canadian water storage even more crucial.

Second, Canada is not motivated purely by American payments. It’s interested in greater flexibility to help meet domestic environmental and social priorities harmed under current Treaty operations.

Third, with a ten-year waiting period, termination won’t accelerate the pace of negotiations or strengthen the U.S. position.

Americans and Canadians need to understand each other and collaborate to modernize the treaty for the benefit of all, including the river.

W. Thomas Soeldner


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