US issues draft proposal for Columbia River Treaty

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YAKIMA (AP) — A U.S.-Canada treaty that governs how the Columbia River and its dams are managed for flood control and power generation should be modernized to better reflect current Pacific Northwest priorities, the U.S. agencies responsible for managing the river said in a draft document Thursday.

The document is a working draft to offer insight to interested parties and other stakeholders about areas of concern for the treaty going forward.

Either country may give notice beginning in 2014 that it wants provision of the treaty changed or terminated, and both countries have been working for months to develop their recommendations.

Canada and the U.S. signed the Columbia River Treaty in 1964 to better manage the river to prevent massive flooding in the river’s lower reaches, which had occurred in the past, and to generate power for both countries.

In the U.S., the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been working with Northwest stakeholders to develop recommendations for areas where the treaty may need to be changed. Those stakeholders include four states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana — 11 federal agencies and 15 Native American tribes.

In addition, the treaty must be flexible enough to adapt to the impacts of climate change and must focus on the benefits to ecosystems in the same way that hydropower and flood control were considered in the original treaty, the document said.

Conservation issues have moved to the forefront since the treaty was first signed nearly 50 years ago. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 forced river managers to consider survival and habitat of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead that are blocked by the dams from swimming upstream to their native spawning beds.

A draft recommendation will be released for public comment in September. A final recommendation is due to the U.S. State Department, which must make any final decision on the treaty, in December 2013.

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