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Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Abstract

The year 2014 is a key date for the potential re-negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada. The Treaty coordinates hydropower operations at 14 mainstem and multiple tributary dams, with the dual goals of maximizing flood control and electrical power generation. In 2024, either party may terminate, with ten years’ notice to the other. Regardless of termination, a key Treaty provision will change, requiring the United States to maximize use of its reservoirs before asking Canada to do the same, leading to deeper drawdowns in Grand Coulee’s Lake Roosevelt and other major reservoirs and potential water shortages for agriculture, hydropower generation, and instream flows for endangered salmon. Native American Tribes, First Nations, and British Columbia residents view Treaty amendment as a means to redress uncompensated historic losses associated with massive hydroelectric development of the watershed. Compounding these issues, global warming will substantially alter Columbia River hydrology, as melting glaciers and reduced snowpack exacerbate winter-spring floods and reduced instream flows and water quality degradation during summer. The United States and Canada should renegotiate a new Columbia River Treaty, recognizing the sovereign rights and interests of Tribes and First Nations. The new treaty must focus on addressing the hydrologic changes caused by global warming and achieving much needed river restoration.

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