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Save Our Wild Salmon

Published in the Oregonian

By Brandon Lee

Early in the new year, Canadian and American officials will meet to discuss the renewal of one of the most enduring examples of our strong partnership - the Columbia River Treaty.

Under the treaty's terms, three dams and reservoirs in British Columbia, and one dam in Montana that floods the Kootenay Valley into B.C., provide flood protection and help generate hydroelectricity downstream in the United States.

For more than 50 years, this benefit-sharing agreement has reliably prevented major flooding in the lower Columbia River Basin. It's helped manage water flows to generate carbon-free electricity. It's fueled technology booms from the jet age to cloud computing. And it has provided stable water levels for irrigation, shipping and recreational use across the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The treaty also has become a critical platform for recent efforts to protect endangered salmon and to begin restoring some of the river's natural functions. The treaty has done all this while helping provide the Pacific Northwest with the lowest electricity rates in the U.S.

The Canadian government has been working closely with the Province of British Columbia, Canada's indigenous people and communities within the Canadian portion of the Columbia River basin. We look forward to sitting down with our American partners to talk about the future of the treaty, and to take stock of changes that have occurred since the treaty was ratified in 1964.

Though the treaty has provided benefits to Canada, there are ongoing significant costs for holding back flood waters on the British Columbia portion of the river basin. Canada's indigenous people and local communities have dealt with drastic fluctuations in reservoir levels causing environmental, economic and cultural losses for the benefit of our downstream neighbors.

The original objective of the Columbia River Treaty was to create and share benefits between the United States and Canada. For Canada, the starting point for discussion on the modernization of the treaty is recognition of the multiple benefits created by the treaty in the U.S., and the continued equitable sharing of these benefits. This must remain our shared goal going forward.

We see a tremendous opportunity to build on a great foundation by continuing to improve environmental conditions and the many economic and cultural benefits that can flow from a renewed treaty. We need to strive for a flexible, basin-wide approach to the challenges of climate change, while also modernizing flood risk management and producing carbon-free electricity.

The Columbia River Treaty has been an important element of the Canada-U.S. partnership. By approaching renewal of this agreement together in a spirit of shared benefits, we can both improve on the existing benefits while addressing new priorities and needs.

Brandon Lee is the Consul General of Canada to the Pacific Northwest, making the first public statement on his country's negotiating stance on the topic. He lives in Seattle.

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