PASCO, Wash. — The chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee wants to ensure the Columbia River Treaty remains focused on generating power and managing flood control, and not effects on the ecosystem.
The United States and Canada are reassessing the treaty, created in 1964. Beginning in 2014, either party can terminate the treaty with 10 year’s notice. The U.S. entity, comprised of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration, will submit a final recommendation to the U.S. Department of State Dec. 13, advising modernizing the agreement.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the committee, said power generation and flood control should remain the basis for reauthorization of the treaty. He expressed concern about an overemphasis on ecosystems and the environment to the treaty in draft documents.
Hastings hopes to keep the treaty small and simple. Negotiations with Canada will be complex enough without injecting “vaguely worded and contentious items,” he said, many of which are already being addressed appropriately through domestic processes.
Brig. Gen. John Kem, commander of the Corps Northwestern Division in Portland, Ore., said ecosystem interests are not being emphasized over or detracting from any other interests.
“We have it in the draft to incorporate context of how we actually conduct coordinated operations today,” he said.
The U.S. already coordinates with Canada for the storage and release of water for flood control, hydropower generation and ecosystem functionality.
“It makes sense from my view to formalize that and stop doing it on an annual, less predictable basis, under a process that leads to significant transactions costs,” Kem said.
Greg Haller, conservation director for the Pacific Rivers Council, supports inclusion of ecosystem management in the treaty. He would like to see an agency like NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife or the Environmental Protection Agency oversee the ecosystem aspect, noting they would better represent needs with their expertise.
“We think there are mutual benefits to be had from modernizing flood risk management to provide more flows safely,” he said. “If we have more flexibility with fuller reservoirs to provide summer flows, that also enhances recreation, system capacity for hydropower production and I think other uses would benefit as well.”
Ron Reimann, president of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association and a Port of Pasco commissioner, would like the treaty to remain simple and treat both countries equally.
“I’ve lost a lot of faith in us doing intelligent and commonsense things,” he said. “It seems like the process has become so over-regulated.”
Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart is concerned about what addressing ecosystem functions would do to a new treaty, even in a minor role. He noted how the National Environmental Policy Act process originated as a simple document, and has grown into a long, complicated process to complete.
McCart worries about leaving ecosystem management up to the state department.
“My fear is that that will expand over time and encompass all of our local economies, all of our lives, all of our ability to irrigate land,” he said. “I don’t think we see where the ramifications of that can go.”
Hastings said the recommendation made by the U.S. entity begins a 10-year process to finalize changes. Time will tell whether his concerns will impact the final result, he said.
“Fifty years of having a treaty in place is a pretty good template that something is working and we shouldn’t be changing that around,” Hastings said.