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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

November 11, 2013

By Pat Ford

Bonneville damThis is an update to SOS supporters on re-negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, and SOS’ work on it.

Recommendation to the State Department.  In December, the Northwest’s regional recommendation on the Treaty will be transmitted to the Department of State. The recommendation will likely come from the states and Tribes as well as federal agencies. Save Our wild Salmon and our colleagues hope to support it, but must wait to see it.

While SOS has some problems with the final draft of that recommendation, issued over a month ago, we support it as the basis to start talks with Canada. It recommends that negotiations begin promptly, and that ecosystem function (or if you will, the health of the river) power production and flood control as a Treaty purpose. We think the best way to address its shortcomings is in the context of moving forward into talks with Canada.

It is not clear if most Northwest public utilities will support moving forward. We hope they do. Utilities are asking Bonneville Power to change the final draft, and Bonneville is unsurprisingly spending much more time talking to them than to us.

Senate Hearing. On November 7, Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and his Senate Energy Committee held a full hearing on the Treaty in Washington D.C. We were pleased that Senator Wyden urged prompt action to re-negotiate, and to add ecosystem function to the Treaty, in part due to climate change, which is significantly affecting the Columbia-Snake Basin and its waters already. Greg Haller of the Pacific Rivers Council testified on behalf of several groups, including SOS, to echo Senator Wyden. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) are on the committee and also attended.

It’s important that fishing and conservation groups meet with Northwest Senators on the Treaty as soon as we can. Funds to get to Washington D.C. are an issue, but one way or another we’ll make sure the Senators know our views.

Conservation Caucus. A conservation/fishing caucus to work on the Treaty is taking shape, to help coordinate work by several organizations and recruit more, and to spread the work as much as possible at a busy time for all our groups. Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Pacific Rivers Council, Sierra Club, Water Watch of Oregon, and SOS are the main caucus members right now, but we intend it to grow. In addition, several U.S. organizations are meeting with some of our British Columbia counterparts in mid-November, as we hope a first step towards a cross-border Treaty network and alliance.

Climate Change. This past summer, water temperatures at the eight mainstem federal dams on the Columbia and Snake were over 70 degrees for almost 45 straight days across the whole system. This is bad news for people as well as salmon, and an indicator why the Columbia River Treaty must be modernized to make the health of the river an equal Treaty purpose. This is urgent. River users have many disagreements about its management, but we hope all will agree on this.


Pat Ford is past executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon and working on the Columbia River Treaty on behalf of SOS.

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