Canada, U.S. Disagree Over Value of Columbia River Treaty Benefits

Mar 14, 2014

British Columbia has staked out a negotiating position on a cross-border water treaty that puts it at odds with public utilities and rate payers in the U.S. Northwest. At issue is whether and how to renew the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty. 

The Columbia River's Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, Washington. The dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Credit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

Northwestern U.S. utilities argue we are paying Canada too much to manage water flows from upstream reservoirs. But the negotiating principles finalized by British Columbia this week imply the U.S. actually undervalues the benefits it receives.

Scott Corwin directs a regional public power industry association based in Portland.

"The British Columbia position and the regional recommendation from the U.S. side are seeing those things a little differently and analyzed those differently. What we'd like to see is the United States expeditiously move into that discussion and try to work through that," Corwin says. 

By treaty, British Columbia receives a portion of the electricity generated from American dams on the shared Columbia River. That's worth several hundred million dollars, which might otherwise accrue to Northwest rate payers.

Under the terms of the Columbia River Treaty, either party can give notice to terminate beginning later this year. But an extended negotiation between Washington and Ottawa seems more likely at this stage.

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