On August 6, 2013, the U.S. Entity (Bonneville Power and Corps of Engineers), issued a letter announcing that, in their “continued efforts to provide openness and transparency,” they will not release the technical documents that support their recommendations for re-negotiating or updating the Columbia River Treaty. The agencies stated that they will not disclose these analytic documents to stakeholders and the public to ensure that upcoming discussions with Canada “not be compromised.”
The U.S. Entity is tasked with preparing recommendations regarding future operations of Columbia River dams with respect to power production, flood control, and as a third new purpose of the Treaty, ecosystem restoration. The Entity recently issued a set of working draft recommendations that are now circulating for public comment, and is expected to issue the next draft on September 6.
The working draft recommendations are being criticized by both conservation groups and the 15 Native American Tribes that live in the Basin. Of particular concern is that the working draft over-emphasizes the status quo for hydropower production and flood control, and does not give co-equal status to environmental restoration and functioning of the Columbia River.
Throughout the multi-year process, the U.S. agencies have repeatedly promised that the final round of technical analysis would inform the public about the trade-offs between different uses of the River. For example, in April 2012 at a Spokane conference, a U.S. Entity spokesman noted that stakeholder comments would be addressed in Iteration 3 of the technical analysis.
Just this month, however, a consortium of 72 Columbia Basin utilities (self-styled the Treaty Power Group) urged the U.S. to “terminate” the Treaty unless an updated Treaty substantially reduces their obligations to share with Canada the surplus energy produced as a result of coordinated operation of Canadian dams (known as the Canadian Entitlement). With former BPA chief Steve Wright moving to general manager of Chelan PUD, the lead entity of the utilities consortium, and former 18-term U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks serving as their lobbyist, the utilities may be exercising substantial influence over the U.S. Entity’s decision process.
The utility consortium’s position may put the U.S. at serious risk of losing the benefits of coordinated operation of dams, given the British Columbia conclusion in its June 2013 analysis of U.S. benefits from the CRT that “[t]he only benefit to Canada from the Treaty is the sharing of downstream benefits from additional power production potential made possible by the coordination of flows. . . . Simply put, without the Canadian Entitlement, British Columbia would see no reason for the Treaty to continue.”
The technical documents may show that coordinated operations to benefit the Columbia River ecosystem is a viable alternative to the present operational protocols, and could create new incentives for Canada to maintain the Treaty.