Northwest lawmakers urge action on Columbia River Treaty

Northwest lawmakers this week urged President Barack Obama to prioritize action on an international treaty regional leaders say could have big implications for Southwest Washington and Clark County.

The group sent a letter this week calling for a revision of the revision of the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which has shaped flood control and hydroelectric power generation on the Columbia for the past 50 years. The letter was led by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and signed by every federal lawmaker representing Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. That included U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

“This is an issue of paramount importance for the entire Pacific Northwest as it directly affects our economy, the environment, and the flood control needs of communities along more than 1,200 miles of the Columbia River and its tributaries,” the letter read.

The treaty was ratified in 1964, but it has been the subject of much discussion recently. That’s because 2014 marks the first year that either nation can give 10 years’ notice to change the agreement or opt out entirely.

The U.S. team reviewing the treaty, led by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has recommended curtailing the amount of hydroelectric power sent across the border to Canada — known as the “Canadian Entitlement.” Leaders also want to see ecosystem function added as the third primary purpose of the treaty.

This week’s letter highlighted those recommendations.

“In our view, it is essential that the Administration now advance this work through discussions with Canada to ensure that a post-2024 Treaty better reflects the interests of our constituents in the region and the United States as a whole,” the letter read.

For Southwest Washington, any change to the Canadian Entitlement could affect local ratepayers. Lowering the amount of power given to Canada could put money back into people’s pockets in the form of lower electricity costs, officials have said. Adding the ecosystem to the mix could also put more of an emphasis on improving fish runs on the Columbia River system.

The regional players who crafted the U.S. stance wouldn’t be the ones actually renegotiating the treaty with Canada. That would be the U.S. State Department.

The letter called for a decision on how to proceed by mid-year.

Eric Florip

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at or 360-735-4541.

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