U.S. Columbia River Users Call for 'Better Bargain' with Canada

Nov 7, 2013

U.S. Senators from the Northwest say it’s time "to strike a better bargain" with Canada over hydropower generated along the shared Columbia River. That was one upshot of a Thursday Senate hearing to discuss how to renegotiate a nearly 50-year-old cross-border treaty.

A range of witnesses in the power generation business claimed Canada is getting a lopsided deal under the terms of the 1960s-era Columbia River Treaty. A Bonneville Power Administration executive testified the U.S. substantially overpays BC Hydro to coordinate water flows from upstream reservoirs.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon bemoaned that those "excess payments" come out of the pockets of Northwest ratepayers. Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch wondered what would make Canada agree to a better deal.

"I think this is going to be a really heavy lift to get the Canadians to try to do something about this. I mean, if I were sitting on the other side of the border, I'd look at this and say, 'Guys, here's the treaty. Where's my check?'" Risch said.

None of the American witnesses could speak for Canada. But the provincial government of British Columbia recently released a position paper defending the value of the many downstream benefits it attributes to coordinated river management.

Under the terms of the Columbia River Treaty, either signatory can give notice to terminate starting next year. A more likely outcome is that the treaty will be reopened for modification. 

"This is not going to be for the faint-hearted," concluded Wyden.