The U.S. Department of State and the Canadian government announced Thursday that formal renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty will begin in early 2018. Fish, electric rates and flood protection all figure to be part of the talks when updating the 53-year-old international treaty between the U.S. and Canada.
The headwaters of the Columbia are in Canada, and that country controls how much water is released downstream and when. In exchange for smoothing hydropower operations across the border, Northwest American electricity consumers pay Canada hundreds of millions of dollars annually, under a provision in the treaty.
In November, Congress members from Oregon and Washington sent a letter to David McNaughton, the Canadian ambassador in Washington, D.C.. They argued those payments are too high.
Separately, tribes and environmental groups are looking for an update to the treaty that includes goals for restoring salmon runs above the Grand Coulee Dam.
Interested parties in the Northwest have been asking for a renegotiation for four years. The current Columbia River Treaty was ratified in 1964.
Members of Congress including Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) applauded the initiation of formal treaty negotiations.
"It is clear the Columbia River Treaty in its current form needs to be updated to meet the modern-day issues facing the Columbia River Basin, the region, and the nation,” said Murray in a press statement.
“By addressing the ‘Canadian Entitlement’ and other issues we can form a treaty that will serve both nations for generations to come,” said McMorris Rodgers.