Murray, Hastings call for action on Columbia River Treaty

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Northwest lawmakers have asked President Obama to make a decision on the Columbia River Treaty a priority by mid-year.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.; and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led an effort to get all lawmakers representing Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho to sign the letter.

The treaty between the United States and Canada has provided the framework for flood control and coordinated hydropower generation on the Columbia River since it was ratified in 1964.

But starting this year, either country can move to end the treaty by giving 10 years notice.

“It is essential that the administration now advance this work through discussions with Canada to ensure that a post-2024 treaty better reflects the interests of our constituents in the region and the United States as a whole,” said the letter sent this week.

The Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed a regional recommendation calling for the U.S. government to make a decision by mid-2014 to proceed with a renegotiation of the treaty with a goal of completed negotiations by 2015.

It calls for the historic focus of power generation and flood control to be expanded to also include ecosystem goals, such as stream flows with appropriate timing, quantity and water quality for salmon.

It also called for reconsideration of a deal that provides Canada with $250 million to $350 million a year worth of electrical power, which is more than was anticipated when the treaty was signed.

An administration decision is needed soon on treaty negotiations to best position the United States for a positive outcome in future discussions with Canada, the letter said.

The treaty directly affects the economy, the environment and the flood control needs of communities along more than 1,200 miles of the Columbia River and its tributaries, the letter said.

“The Columbia River provides significant economic and cultural benefits to our region and how it is managed through the treaty will have major impacts into the future,” the letter said.

Lawmakers also encouraged the administration to remain in regular and close communication with the Northwest Congressional delegation during potential negotiations with Canada and to remain open to input from experts in the Northwest.

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