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Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

By Pat Ford

columbia.r-largeA previous post explained why Save Our Wild Salmon is working on the Columbia River Treaty. This one describes what we are doing. SOS has three activities underway on the Treaty. All are in service to the four main changes we seek: make ecosystem function a third co-equal Treaty purpose, with power production and flood control; add an expert representative for ecosystem function to the U.S. Entity that implements the Treaty, joining Bonneville Power and the Army Corps of Engineers; assure a phased, science-based program to restore salmon above major salmon-impassable dams; and modernize flood management to both protect against floods and protect ecosystems. Some of these can begin now, others must wait for formal approval by both nations of a new Treaty.

First, we are submitting and organizing public engagement by SOS supporters and member groups with the U.S. Department of State, Bonneville Power and the Army Corps, and the U.S. Department of Interior. Over 1000 SOS supporters submitted comments on the Working Draft recommendation released in July, and thanks to our and others’ efforts the Final Draft recommendation, released September 20, is much improved. We will organize further engagement on this Final Draft this month.

Second, we are in regular contact with agencies and sovereigns involved in the Treaty. These include the Departments of State and Interior, BPA and the Army Corps, the states of Oregon, Washington and Montana, and Columbia Basin Tribes. We are urging the Department of State to begin Treaty talks with Canada in 2014 (a decision whether to do so should occur early in 2014), and learning as much as we can about the how SOS and salmon people can most productively help the negotiation to succeed.

Third, we are helping coordinate organizing, information flow, and agency/elected leader contact by conservation, fishing, and business groups. The Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Pacific Rivers Council, Sierra Club, NW Energy Coalition, American Rivers, Earthjustice, WaterWatch of Oregon, Columbia RiverKeeper, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Idaho Rivers United are the main but not only groups in this emerging network. They all deserve thanks for jumping on this urgent issue despite lack of money or time to do so.

We want to add a fourth action early in 2014: regular coordinated contact with conservation and fishing groups and leaders in British Columbia.

In all this work, a key SOS role is to integrate environmental and economic purposes. Ecosystem function IS economic function in the Columbia Basin and the Northwest. Objectives like “balancing environment and economy” no longer make sense, if they ever did. To weather climate change, both must be optimized in tandem, which can only be done by integrating the two in policy, politics and popular understanding. Because salmon knit economy and environment together, SOS is well placed to pursue this.

Pat Ford is the former Executive Director of Save Our Wild Salmon.

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