Columbia River Treaty Workshop Precis & Work Plan

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Workshop Precis

The Columbia River Treaty: A Conversation About the Future for Trans-Boundary Integrated Water Resource Management in the Columbia Basin. 

April 28-29 | Berkeley, California, USA

The Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada has been recognized as an innovative example of the bi-national management of the water resources of an international river. The scope of this treaty, which encompasses power generation and flood control, could be viewed as an initial step towards managing a trans-boundary watershed as an integrated system. This would allow the total benefits to be greater than the case if each country managed purely on its own narrow self-interest, and recognizes that these benefits would be shared equitably. When the Treaty was ratified in 1964, it did not adequately consider the rights and responsibilities of tribes and First Nations or local residents, ecological functions such as fish and fish habitat, instream flow needs, river processes and ecology, etc. Additionally, the treaty did not address issues such as water requirements for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses, river transport and recreation, water quality, or potential changes in runoff characteristics and water temperature as a result of climate change.


The impending renegotiations are widely seen as providing an opportunity to modernize the treaty by including consideration of the above issues. There are now legal requirements to address aboriginal entitlements and to maintain endangered species. There are also uncertainties regarding how to value water storage in Canada which is used to provide flood protection or ecological services ,the effects of climate change on stream flow and associated ecological functions which merit attention. Looming over all treaty-related deliberations is the recent change in US administration, which introduces uncertainty whether the US will respect the cooperative nature of the last five decades of trans-boundary management of the Columbia River and approach updating of the agreement in a collaborative manner.



We invite you to join a seminar/workshop-style conversation in Berkeley to explore these issues, viewing the Treaty from the lens of integrated water resources management, and exploring opportunities to incorporate scientifically sound information to inform the treaty renewal process. The first day will consist of short presentations and discussions, followed by a second day in which we will delve more deeply and draft a paper highlighting key issues. The workshop objective is therefore to discuss mechanisms to collaboratively modernize the treaty, identify important knowledge gaps, provide direction on future studies and a basis for a possible future bi-national science panel that can advise the negotiating parties.



Work Plan

Columbia River Treaty Renewal: Some Science and Knowledge Requirements

to Facilitate Discussions at UC Berkeley Workshop, April 28 - 29, 2017



This document represents an initial attempt to identify and outline the scope of the science and knowledge required to support discussions of the main issues arising from the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.  We anticipate that our discussions in the coming workshop will allow us to better develop these topics. 


The Main Issues                  

A number of important issues have been identified since the release of the “U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty” (2013) and the B.C. Decision Document on the Columbia River Treaty (2015). These documents can be found at: and Decision on Columbia River Treaty.pdf

These issues include:

1. The Value of the Canadian Entitlement: The first recommendation of the U.S. Entity Report is to renegotiate the incremental power benefits associated with Canadian Treaty reservoirs, given that a significant portion of Canadian water is now used for fisheries purposes in the U.S. and is not available for power production. The U.S. entity estimates that the incremental power value of the “Canadian Entitlement” is currently around $26 million per year, a small figure when compared to the $150 to $300 million in actual annual payments made since 1998 as calculated in accordance with the formula set out in 1964.  The value of the alternative fisheries benefits remains incompletely specified.

The science/knowledge requirements: What has been done, what needs to be done and what practically speaking can be done to assist both sets of negotiators on the relative value of the Canadian Entitlement given its alternative benefits for power generation or fisheries purposes? Are there other benefits or impacts that should be measured when determining the Canadian entitlement?

2. Post-2024 Flood Protection. Post-2024 flood protection is potentially one of the most significant issues in the upcoming Treaty negotiations. After 2024, the flood management priorities of the Canadian Treaty reservoirs will shift to a “Called Upon” approach whereby the U.S. would initially draft their reservoirs to meet flood control requirements before calling upon additional storage in Canada. If implemented, the U.S. could lose the capacity of the Canadian reservoirs for flood control in the coordinated manner currently available. Changing the drafting protocols in Canadian reservoirs, such as Mid-Arrow, could potentially improve ecological functions but might also increase flood risk in high valued floodplains in the lower Columbia River valley.

The science/knowledge requirements: What has been done and what should be done to assist Treaty discussions? Is there a need for mutually agreed upon assessments of flood damage avoided in key flood plains, particularly in urban areas? Is there a need for some form of mutually agreed upon tradeoff analysis of upstream/downstream benefits? What types of information and analysis are required? What are the risks associated with various storage capacities and design discharge releases of the Canadian reservoirs?

3. Determining the Scope and Value of the Columbia's Ecosystem Functions: The U.S. Entity report contains five substantive recommendations under the heading of Ecosystem-Based Function (EBF). These are new, in terms of the provisions of the existing Treaty and appear to suggest that one goal for modernizing the Treaty is to ensure that a more comprehensive ecosystem-based function approach is pursued throughout the Columbia Basin watershed. We encourage workshop participants to read the nine General Principles preceding the Recommendation section and then evaluate the EBF recommendations (see URL in the second paragraph) with a view to assessing how far these recommendations move a modernized Treaty towards the concept of integrated water resource management. We also encourage workshop participants to read the General Principles of the B.C. Decision document to appreciate the differences in viewpoint on how ecosystem values and ecosystem-based improvements should be accommodated in a modernized Treaty. The main interest in ecosystem based function for both Parties may initially have been the protection of flows and water temperatures to support salmon in the Columbia, but additional ecosystem function s and species (such as white sturgeon) will need to be considered.

A significant emerging issue is the value of the Columbia's ecosystem functions. These functions (or 'services' as described by some analysts) are recognized by both Entities as a key socio-economic issue in the upcoming negotiations. Some ecosystem 'services' evaluation research has been undertaken in both Canada and the U.S. but to date appears to be limited in scope when compared to the potential value of these functions.

Science/knowledge requirements: Given that the ecosystem-based functions area is a new ‘third leg' of a possible modernized Treaty, the workshop discussion for the ecosystem function recommendations could be broken into two parts:

Part 1. What are the ecological functions within the Columbia Basin? What has been done to identify them, where are the gaps in our understanding of them and what should be done to fill them?

Part 2. Are current methods for measuring market and non-market derived values of ecosystem services sufficiently robust to be acceptable by both parties in future Treaty negotiations? What has been done and what needs to be done to facilitate Treaty negotiations in this arena? What consideration should be given to the differences in meaning between ecosystem functions and ecosystem services? Should the science community examine the vocabulary used in the CRT debate thus far and provide some clarification of meaning to a number of expressions, such as 'ecosystem-based function objectives’' that could confuse Treaty negotiations?

4. First Nations/Tribal Role in Treaty Renewal Negotiations. The role of the First Nations and U.S. Tribes in the upcoming negotiations and their future role in the governance of a new Columbia River Treaty needs to be addressed. The knowledge base, culture, values, rights, titles and perspectives of the First Nations and U.S. Tribes were not fully considered in the existing Treaty. Some Canadian First Nations have publicly advised B.C. that any CRT negotiations pursued without them being “at the table” will be regarded as illegal under current law. Clearly, a range of legal and jurisdictional issues need reviewing by both countries in collaboration with the Tribes and First Nations before formal negotiations commence.

Science and Knowledge Requirements: What has been done by legal scholars, First Nations and Tribes to assess such issues as First Nation and Tribal rights, title and recent court decisions as to their effect on future CRT negotiations and what still needs to be done?

5. What do We do About Salmon? Anadromous salmon and their habitat requirements are now protected in the U.S. by the 1993 Endangered Species Act and in Canada by the 2002 Species at Risk Act. The U.S. utilities have spent over $13 billion in salmon restoration measures in the U.S. part of the Columbia Basin. Given the restriction of anadromous salmon of Canadian origin (SOCO) to the Okanagan sub-basin, expenditures on restoration of SOCO total less than $25 million over the past 50 years with 90% of expenditures occurring in the most recent decade.  First Nations and US tribes on both sides of the border have a strong capacity for research and management of salmon and their habitat needs, and have mounted a strong campaign to restore salmon populations throughout the Columbia Basin. These efforts include the Okanagan and Similkameen sub-basins which are not included in the ambit of the existing Treaty.

            The US Entity's position is that salmon should be restored to the waters of the whole basin, and depending on feasibility and cooperation with Canada, above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.

British Columbia's perspective is that ''the Government of Canada is the sole authority over management of anadromous salmon populations and that restoration of fish passage and habitat, if feasible should be the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure'.  How does the BC position reflect the objectives and mandate of the Canadian government?

            A U.S. district court has ordered NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service to update its management plan (or biological opinion/BiOp) for salmon restoration under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as the current emphasis on restoring endangered populations through restoration of headwater habitats has not been successful. Additionally, the current biological opinion is not thought to adequately incorporate the potential effects of climate change on habitat for salmon and other ecosystem functions. The science being undertaken under this update should be incorporated into the overall knowledge base for the Columbia River Treaty.

The science/knowledge requirement: What has been done and what needs to be done to provide sufficient science/knowledge to rebuild and maintain sustainable anadromous salmon and resident fish populations in the Columbia Basin?  Does the salmon issue need a bi-nationally acceptable, First Nations and Tribes approved, basin wide strategy and ultimate management plan? Given the climate change increases in water temperature regime now being forecast in the lower mainstem of the Columbia, will maintaining sustainable fish populations imply very large investments in biophysical knowledge, habitat restoration and fish migration technologies on both sides of the border? Should the Okanagan/Similkameen sub-basins be included in the scope of the science requirements leading to a modernized Treaty, given that the Okanagan sub-basin supports the only remaining populations of wild-origin sockeye, Chinook and steelhead salmon currently returning to Canada for spawning and juvenile rearing?  Should restoration of the Snake River salmon populations and/or range extensions  of Similkameen be considered as part of an integrated trans-boundary watershed management plan?

6. Climate Change: University researchers in both Canada and the U.S. have undertaken updated hydrologic and water temperature modeling. Prospective changes in temperature and precipitation will affect water security for the five issues noted above as well as other water uses identified in the following section. However, the implications of these predictions will require additional interpretation in the context of the full range of issues that a modernized treaty will need to consider (such as power generation, flood control and ecosystem-based functions). The workshop should also discuss how a revised treaty could incorporate the flexibility needed to respond to future changes in watershed conditions.

Science and Knowledge Requirements:  The results of these university climate modeling initiatives should be reviewed. This will require considering various hydrological scenarios for evaluating impacts on hydro-power, flood control and ecosystem function and other water uses throughout the basin.

Other Issues- Science Implications of Additional U.S. Entity Recommendations

The Water Supply (irrigation, municipal, industrial and recreation needs) and Navigation recommendations in the US Entity report propose that a modernized Treaty should recognize these activities as “Authorized Uses”. These future water requirements are potentially at risk due to future climate related changes in hydrology. These proposed changes would need to be carefully examined by Canada and may require non-market and market based evaluation studies.  The main beneficiary of any new “Authorized Uses” will be the U.S. and adding these activities into a modernized Treaty could involve compensation to Canada.

Science/Knowledge Requirements: What kind of market and non-market based valuation studies will be required? What types of trade-off analysis will be required? What types of additional hydro-technical assessments are required? What has been done, what are the gaps and how do we fill them?


Comments Regarding the Above Issues

1. A single, coordinated compendium of all key research undertaken by both Entities to date should be prepared and made accessible to all researchers.

2.The synthesis and integration of new and existing science will be a challenge. Science requirements for supporting future Treaty discussions should include a well-designed multidisciplinary mix of existing and new applied sciences (i.e. engineering), biophysical sciences, social sciences (including economics) work and a considerable amount of legal, jurisdictional and institutional analysis.

3. What should be the role of “peer review” in evaluating both the existing and new science undertaken in support of the upcoming CRT negotiations?

4. Environmental impact assessments of past and present operations are currently being done in the U.S. by the Bonneville Power Administration, and planned by the Government of Canada for the Canadian portions of the Columbia River watershed.  Our group could potentially contribute by identifying key issues and data gaps. 

5. Future governance of the Columbia River is not a prime focus of the science community. However, many items outlined above, such as anadromous fish management, the role of First Nations and Tribes in negotiating a new treaty, integrating the Okanagan/Similkameen and Snake Sub Basins (which are not part of the existing treaty) and water security threats from a changing hydrology regime, are all governance issues that will require science attention. Similarly, the incorporation of an ecosystem-based approach and inclusion of new authorized uses will likely require changing the current Entity governance model to include new expertise and broader perspectives. These and related issues should be managed in an integrated manner across the entire Columbia River Basin. Some consideration should therefore be given to evaluating the various legal, jurisdictional and institutional arrangements necessary for such a basin-wide management approach.