Columbia River Treaty negotiations provide opportunity to work together

The Columbia River is one incredible treasure in this basin we generally take for granted until historic benefits are threatened – as they may very well be now with the fast approaching Columbia River Treaty (CRT)renegotiation trigger date of 2014.

We share this river and all that it is with another nation.  They too cherish it, have wants and needs of its nurturing waters and will expect continued fair recognition in the event of a renegotiation of the Treaty.  One only needs to travel south to gain a U.S. perspective and appreciation of this river’s benefits for fish, power, recreation, agriculture and the absolute need for flood management.

In preparation of a possible renegotiation of the Treaty, the Columbia Basin Trust initiated the Canadian Columbia River Forum (CCRF). Its purpose is to provide an information sharing forum in which the participants can collaborate on initiatives and processes that affect the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin (www.ccrf.ca).

The CCRF represents 17 Canadian federal, provincial, regional and First Nation agencies committed to collaborating on water management initiatives in the transboundary-reach of the Canadian Columbia River Basin and I participate as Trail Council’s representative.

Connected to the Columbia River Treaty is the Non-Treaty Storage Agreement and it is also now in need of renegotiation.  The City of Trail also sits as a stakeholder in that present engagement process.

The following is an excerpt from BC Hydro’s Non-Treaty Storage Agreement Stakeholder Forum report.

The Non-Treaty Storage Agreement (NTSA) is a commercial agreement between BC Hyrdo and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) relating to the management of Kinbasket, Arrow Lakes and Duncan reservoirs and Columbia River power plant operations in Canada and the U.S.  The NTSA covers most of the Canadian storage on the Columbia River that is not already coordinated under the CRT, providing for further coordination of water storage and power benefits for reservoir and power plant operations on the Columbia River.

The NTSA was first signed by BC Hydro and BPA in 1984 to address the initial filling of Revelstoke Reservoir; the agreement was then expanded in 1990 to increase the power benefits and meet other needs in two countries.  The release provisions of the NTSA expired in June 2004, while storage refill provisions remained in effect for an additional seven years. As of the time of writing (February 2011) the NTSA storage is completely full.

BC Hydro and PBA have commenced negotiations regarding a potential long-term replacement agreement. BC Hydro’s objectives during these negotiations are to:

– optimize additional power and non-power benefits for BC Hydro;

– improve control of Kinbasket-Arrow reservoir levels;

– support the system capability to meet existing Columbia Water Use Planning objectives; and

– extend the agreement to a maximum of 2024, with short-notice termination to protect from negative implications of sudden regulatory or other changes.

Dating back to the Columbia Water Use Planning process, BC Hydro committed to engaging with interested stakeholders and consulting with First Nations on the potential impacts of various operating scenarios considered for Non-Treaty Storage.

The NTSA is separate and distinct from the Columbia River Treaty.The CRT is an international agreement between Canada and the United States for the cooperative development and operation of water resources in the Columbia River Basin.

The entities designated with the responsibility for implementing the Treaty are BC Hydro (in Canada) and Bonneville Power Administration and the US Army Corps of Engineers (in the US).  Under the terms of the CRT, BC Hydro built and now operates 15.5 million acre feet (MAF) of storage in the Kinbasket (7.0 MAF), Arrow Lakes (7.1 MAF) and Duncan (1.4 MAF) reservoirs in coordination with the US entities to optimize power generation and flood control benefits in both countries.

The NTSA on the other hand is a bilateral agreement between BC Hydro and BPA. It is an enabling agreement that provides for up to 5.0 MAF of storage operated by mutual agreement. As an enabling agreement, neither party is obligated to manage to a strict set of rules, but rather maintains the flexibility to utilize the additional storage to meet their power and non-power management objectives.

Additionally, the Province of British Columbia has now initiated its own Treaty review process to study the possible continuation, renegotiation or termination.  This report is available online at: www.empr.gov.bc.ca/EPD/Columbia RiverTreaty/Pages/default.aspx.

This “one river two nations” circumstance now affords both countries a unique historic opportunity to mutually enhance rather than detract from two well conceived existing treaties.

Gord DeRosa is a City of Trail councillor