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First Columbia River Treaty talks ‘very productive’

The next round of negotiations will be next August in British Columbia.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on June 4, 2018 8:00AM

The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington state. The first round of negotiations to update the Columbia River Treaty was last week in Washington, D.C.

Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington state. The first round of negotiations to update the Columbia River Treaty was last week in Washington, D.C.


The first two days of negotiating updates to the Columbia River Treaty were “very productive,” U.S. negotiators say.

The talks were May 29-30 in Washington, D.C.

Some provisions of the treaty, adopted in 1964 for cooperative development and operation of water resources in the Columbia River Basin, are set to expire in 2024.

Negotiators spoke during a conference call May 31 following the first round of negotiations to modernize the treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

Media were advised to identify speakers only as “senior U.S. government officials.”

“We’re in the beginning stages and right now we’re just reaffirming cooperation,” one official said. “We’re just laying out what our future objectives are at this point.”

Negotiators are relying on a 2013 regional recommendation developed by the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after years of consulting federal agencies, states, tribes and “extensive” stakeholder engagement.

“This is our guide, this is our foundation,” the official said.

U.S. objectives include continued careful management of flood risk; ensuring a reliable and economical power supply and better addressing ecosystem concerns.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have brought up mitigating any impacts associated with climate change, an official said.

The official declined to go into specific negotiating positions.

When asked by reporters whether the Trump administration had issued “marching orders” or expressed views on the treaty as a good deal or bad deal, the officials reiterated that they were relying on the regional recommendations.

Asked if Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum and renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement would affect negotiations, the official was not aware of any discussions to merge the issues.

“We have no information that suggests these discussions will be impacted at this point,” an official said.

Pacific Northwest tribes and First Nations tribes in Canada have expressed concerns that they don’t have a seat at negotiations, a reporter said.

The officials are “deeply grateful” for the tribes who contributed to the consensus outlined in the 2013 recommendation.

“We value the expertise and experience of the tribes, and the department has maintained regular contact and communications with the tribes,” an U.S. official said. “We will continue to consult with the tribes on a regular basis as negotiations proceed. We are working with the tribes to develop an engagement plan that allows for meaningful consultation throughout the negotiation process.”

The next round of negotiations will be Aug. 15-16 in British Columbia.



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