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Commentaries and editorials

Hastings: Columbia River Treaty Draft
Recommendation Needs Re-Working

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, July 2, 2012

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee wants more focus on flood control and hydropower in a draft recommendation on whether the Columbia River Treaty should continue between the U.S. and Canada.

In a statement, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said it is "vital" that any change to the treaty focus on providing flood control and ensuring that the U.S. receives balanced benefits from the hydropower produced from the Columbia and Snake River dams.

Hastings said a working draft of the regional recommendation released by the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers devotes "significant attention to controversial issues" that are not germane to the treaty.

"That could seriously undermine other important ongoing regional collaboration relating to the operation of federal and non-federal hydropower dams and salmon recovery," Hastings stated.

The draft recommendation indicates the treaty should continue but needs to be modernized, said Amy Echols, assistant chief of the public affairs office for the Portland office of the Corps.

Modernization includes water management adjustments to improve ecosystem functions in the river, which were not a part of the original treaty, Echols said.

The U.S. and Canada are determining whether to continue the treaty, which expires in 2024. The treaty is designed to manage flood control and power generation on the river. The nations can terminate the treaty with 10 years advance notice.

The draft recommendation also seeks to rebalance power benefits between the two countries. According to the draft, Canada gets "substantially greater value" from coordinated power operations than the U.S.

The draft would maintain the current level of flood-risk management, and consider re-evaluation in the future, Echols said.

Matt Rea, program manager for the treaty review for the Corps, said the working draft focuses on water supply, but doesn't specifically address agriculture.

The draft says the treaty should allow storage and release of water from Canada in spring and summer for additional out-of-stream and in-stream uses to help meet water supply needs in the United States, Rea said.

That kind of an operation would likely mean the U.S. would have to pay Canada for the change in operation, he said.

It would fall to the states to allocate the additional water supply, Rea said.

He recommends agricultural stakeholders read the document to consider whether it adequately addresses their concerns.

It remains to be seen how closely the final recommendation will mirror the current working draft, Echols said. Feedback from stakeholders will help the agencies develop a consensus.

"There's great alignment on some of the very strong issues," she said. "But there is notable discussion that still needs to happen on the details."

A draft recommendation endorsed by stakeholders will be available for public discussion in September. Echols said the final recommendation will go to the State Department in mid-December.

As chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Bonneville Power Administration and hydropower, Hastings intends to conduct oversight of the efforts relating to the treaty and its potential impacts.

Matthew Weaver
Hastings: Columbia River Treaty Draft Recommendation Needs Re-Working
Capital Press, July 2, 2012

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