Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Columbia River Treaty Review - R43287

Charles V. Stern
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is an international agreement between the United States and Canada for the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the Columbia River Basin to provide for flood control and power. The Treaty was precipitated by several flooding events in the basin, and was the result of more than 20 years of negotiations between the two countries. It was ratified in 1961, and implementation began in 1964.

The Treaty provided for the construction and operation of 15.5 million acre-feet of additional storage, including three dams in Canada and one dam in the United States (whose reservoir extends into Canada). Together, these dams more than doubled the amount of reservoir storage available in the basin and provided significant flood protection benefits throughout the basin. The CRT also requires that the United States and Canada prepare “Assured Operating Plans,” to allow for more predictable operations for flood control and power objectives in the United States, among other things. In exchange for these benefits, the United States agreed to provide Canada with lump sum cash payments and a portion of downstream hydropower benefits that are attributable to Canadian operations under the CRT (known as the “Canadian Entitlement”). The Canadian Entitlement has been estimated by some to be worth as much as $335 million annually.

The CRT has no specific end date, and most of its provisions would continue indefinitely without action by the United States or Canada. However, beginning in September 2024, either nation can terminate most provisions of the Treaty with at least 10 years written notice (i.e., starting as early as 2014). Thus, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), in their designated role as the “U.S. Entity,” have undertaken a review of the Treaty. Based on studies and stakeholder input, a recommendation by the U.S. Entity has been published in draft form, and a final recommendation on how to proceed (i.e., continue, terminate, modify) is expected to be provided to the Department of State by December 2013. If the Treaty is not terminated or modified, most of its provisions would continue. The only provision currently scheduled to change in 2024 involves flood control by Canadian CRT projects. These operations are scheduled to transition to “called-upon” operations in 2024. This means that the United States would request and compensate Canada for flood control operations as necessary.

Perspectives on the CRT and its review vary. Some U.S. interests believe that the Treaty should continue but be altered to include, for example, guarantees related to tribal resources and fisheries flows that were not included in the original Treaty. Others think that the Canadian Entitlement should be adjusted to more equitably share actual hydropower benefits, and some disagree that fisheries flows should be accounted for in the Treaty. For its part, Canada has disputed several U.S. assumptions and recommendations during the review process, including those related to Canada’s expected responsibilities for called-upon flood control and the status of the Canadian Entitlement. Canada has noted that without the Canadian Entitlement, it sees no reason for the Treaty to continue.

The draft recommendation by the U.S. Entity is to continue the Treaty with certain modifications; it is expected to be finalized in December 2013. The executive branch, through the State Department, will make the final determination on whether changes to the Treaty are in the national interest and will conduct any negotiations with Canada related to the future of the CRT. The Constitution gives the Senate the power to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the executive branch. If the executive branch comes to an agreement regarding modification of the CRT, the Senate may be asked to weigh in. In addition, both houses may choose to weigh in on Treaty review activities.

Date of Report: December 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R43287
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R43287 .pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery.