John Diefenbaker and Dwight Eisenhower at the signing of the Columbia River Treaty, January 1961. (White House Photo Office)

Columbia River Treaty to be renegotiated in early 2018

News came in a Tweet from the U.S. Department of State

Renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the United States will begin in early 2018, according to the U.S. Department of State.

On Thursday, Dec. 7 the Department of State tweeted:

“The United States and #Canada will begin negotiations to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty regime in early 2018. Certain provisions of the Treaty — a model of transboundary natural resource cooperation since 1964 — are set to expire in 2024. https://go.usa.gov/xnNr9.”

Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West and minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, says the B.C. government supports the continuation of the treaty.

“British Columbia looks forward to engaging with Canada and the United States on the future of the Columbia River Treaty,” she said in a statement. “We support continuing the Treaty and seeking improvements using the flexibility within the existing Treaty framework. Consistent with the principles of the Treaty that has served both countries very well for over 50 years, our objective will be to maximize benefits and share those benefits equitably.”

The treaty was first ratified in 1964.

Canada agreed to provide flood control and to build three dams — Duncan, Hugh L. Keenleyside and Mica — in B.C. and allowed the U.S. to build a fourth dam, the Libby Dam, that flooded into Canada, in exchange for “an equal share of the incremental U.S. downstream power benefits.”

Canada’s half-share of the downstream power benefits is known as the Canadian Entitlement, and under the 1963 Canada-British Columbia Agreement, the benefits are owned by the Province of B.C.

The Canadian Entitlement is provided by the U.S. as energy and capacity, not money. Between 2000 and 2010, the average annual entitlement was 1320 megawatts.

Powerex, the wholly owned electricity marketing subsidiary of BC Hydro, then sells that power at market value to BC Hydro or utilities in Alberta or the U.S.

When the treaty was first ratified, B.C. sold the first 30 years of power to a consortium of utilities in the U.S. for $254 million and used the money to build the three Columbia River Treaty dams. Those agreements expired in phases between 1998 and 2003 and B.C. now receives the full Canadian Entitlement, which is estimated to be worth $120 million annually, depending on power market prices.

The treaty has no end date but either country can end it from September 2024 onwards if at least 10 years notice is given.

In November of 2011, B.C. initiated a Columbia River Treaty Review, which resulted in a recommendation being made to the B.C. government in December 2013. That, in turn, led to the B.C. Decision, which was to continue the treaty and “seek improvements within its existing framework.”

The decision lists 14 principles that will guide any changes to the treaty pursued by B.C.

The 11th principle states that “[s]almon migration into the Columbia River in Canada was eliminated by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 (26 years prior to Treaty ratification), and is currently not a Treaty issue.”

You can read all 14 principles at engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/6/2012/03/BC_Decision_on_Columbia_River_Treaty.pdf.

Also in December 2013, the U.S. Entity delivered its final recommendation to the U.S. Department of State and in the fall f 2016, the department completed its review of the final recommendations and “decided to proceed with negotiations to modern the Treaty.”

RELATED: Pay more for Columbia River, minister tells U.S.

We will have more on this story as we gather reaction.

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