News Columbia river treaty : the negotiations are difficult

Columbia river treaty : the negotiations are difficult

A text Benoit Clément

The international treaty was ratified in 1961, to administer the plan in river and build hydroelectric dams along the river. The United States believe, however, that it is time to modernize the treaty, and most importantly, review the payment models.

Enlarge image (New window)

The Columbia river originates in Canada and flows to the Pacific, passing through the States of Washington and Oregon. The river watershed is shown in yellow.

Photo : Radio-Canada

The origin of the treaty

In 1948, a series of damaging floods ravaged several communities along the Columbia river, in Trail, British Columbia to Astoria, Oregon. The river level is up 9 m, and the water has completely destroyed Vanport, the second largest city in Oregon at the time.

The United States and Canada started negotiations on an agreement as possible to better manage the level of the river, building of hydroelectric dams. These dams could also help transform industries in the floodplain, and later, to produce the energy to power the member states.

The development of the Columbia river treaty has lasted for over 15 years. It was signed in 1961 and entered into force in 1964.

Aerial view of the dam, Duncan lake with Duncan in the background.Enlarge image (New window)

The dam Duncan, in the Purcell mountains, is the first dam to be built through the Columbia river treaty.

Photo : Government of British Columbia

The gains of the two sides of the border

British Columbia, the canadian entity in the treaty, is committed to build three dams on its territory : the dam Keenleyside, to the west of Castlegar, the dam Mica north of Revelstoke, the dam and Duncan, to the north of Nelson.

These three dams provide better control over the flood of the Columbia river, which then enables the dams americans to increase their production of hydroelectricity.

For their part, the United States have committed to compensate the province for the construction of these dams and the benefits downstream afforded to Americans, such as the increase in the production of energy.

The government of British Columbia said that the payments he receives each year are approximately $ 120 million, depending on the value of the electricity markets.

Students eat at a table in front of the impressive Grand Coulee dam, on the Columbia river. The valves are leaking a large amount of water.Enlarge image (New window)

The Grand Coulee dam in the State of Washington, is the largest hydroelectric generating station in the United States.

Photo : Associated Press / Nicholas K. Geranios

A treaty with no expiry date

Even if the Columbia river Treaty does not expire, since 2014, the Canada or the United States may terminate it by giving 10 years notice. The government of British Columbia has suggested that it is largely satisfied with the treaty as it is drafted. The United States, themselves, believe that it is necessary to review it thoroughly.

The Americans want to reduce their financial obligations. The administration believes that they have repaid amply the cost of the construction of the dams and believes that the payments should vary according to the use of dams by Canada.

The United States also believe that it is necessary to discuss possible programs to restore the passage of salmon along the river, in order to allow them to spawn in Canada.

Canada has everything to lose

The negotiations will likely be difficult for Canada, according to Richard Paisley, a professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert in international water law.

“The United States to pay a lot of money in Canada, in virtue of this treaty, but other u.s. laws prevent them from fully benefiting from the advantages mentioned in the treaty “, he explains.

Each day that Canada does not negotiate, he pockets the money in payment of this treaty.

Richard Paisley, professor of water governance, University of British Columbia

Richard Paisley also said that this is not the only ongoing negotiations between the two countries. “The record of Canada contains the NAFTA, softwood lumber, Pacific salmon, and everything is managed by a single person in Washington. The Columbia river treaty is probably not the most important at this time “, he believes.

The u.s. State department announced last December that the negotiations between the two countries, about the Columbia river Treaty, would begin in 2018.

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