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News / Clark County News

Is a new Columbia River Treaty treaty on tap?

U.S., Canadian, Indigenous entities working to modernize Columbia basin pact

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 23, 2023, 6:05am
2 Photos
Hood River, Ore. and the Columbia River are visible through scorched trees Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, near the Tunnel Five Fire burn scar in Underwood.
Hood River, Ore. and the Columbia River are visible through scorched trees Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, near the Tunnel Five Fire burn scar in Underwood. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

Since 1961, the U.S. and Canada have worked together to manage dams in the Columbia River Basin, but this arrangement may change in September 2024.

The Columbia River Treaty requires the U.S. and Canada to coordinate flood management in the Columbia Basin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation operate the 14 dams that sit within the Columbia River System, a drainage the size of Texas.

Representatives for federal, provincial and Indigenous entities have met more than a dozen times since January to negotiate means of modernizing the treaty, which was ratified in 1964. Without modernization, Canada and the U.S. won’t coordinate flood management in the basin as they have for the past 60 years.

Modernity in this sense is centered on sustaining the Columbia River’s health while remedying impacts to Indigenous people caused by operating dams without their consent.

If both countries reach an agreement, it could “reduce the uncertainty” of the September change, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Regardless, the corps says the U.S. is ready to operate the dams regardless of the negotiation outcomes.

As long as Canada has dams in the basin, the U.S. is able to tap into Canadian storage when needed. However, the corps is unsure of how Canada will react and how it will manage its reservoirs after September 2024, resulting in unpredictability in American flood management, according to the corps.

Though Columbia dams have provided hydroelectric power to both British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, social and environmental concerns remain related to the operations.

Information sessions

The public can learn more from federal planners during virtual information sessions from noon to 1 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Sept. 27 and from 11 a.m. to noon and 5 to 6 p.m. Oct. 10, though presenters won’t answer individual questions.

Those who are interested can call 1-844-800-2712 toll-free or tune in at usace1.webex.com/meet/edward.t.conning with access code 1998 73 5911#.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer