September 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Columbia River Treaty coming into force, and is the first date by which the U.S. or Canada could inform the other nation that it intends to terminate the Treaty in 2024. Many activities have been undertaken to review and consider Treaty updates, none of them contemplating termination. Rather many parties have focused on how to update the Treaty to include modern principles of ecosystem and justice for all affected communities and peoples.
In the past year, both countries have undertaken concerted review of the Treaty. In December 2013, the two U.S. agencies in charge of managing the Columbia River dams (BPA and ACOE) issued a cover letter and recommendation for updating the Treaty.
Last spring, British Columbia issued its “decision” on the CRT including 14 principles. B.C.’s bottom line is “do not terminate but seek improvements within the existing Treaty framework.” The B.C. view is informed by its June 2013 evaluation of the benefits that the U.S. receives from the Treaty, many of which are not recognized.
In December 2013 the B.C. Local Governments Committee issued its recommendations on both international and domestic issues associated with the Treaty.
The Columbia Basin Tribes Coalition has provided great leadership in moving Treaty modernization toward a new model of ecosystem restoration and shared governance, starting with 2010 issuance of the Common Views document. The Tribes are pushing the Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate flood risk management of the Columbia River, and seek consultation as sovereigns with the U.S. Department of State, reportedly the only U.S. agency that lacks a formal policy to implement its trust relationship with U.S. Tribes.
In February 2014, all of the Tribes and First Nations jointly issued a policy paper and sponsored two conferences to discuss how to bring salmon and other migratory fish species back to the Upper Columbia River, which would benefit watersheds and people in both countries.
Sierra Club and CELP are jointly pursuing the Ethics & Treaty Project working with religious and indigenous leaders and communities. The goal is to ensure that changes to the Treaty have a foundation in stewardship and justice. The Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Treaty is circulating for signature by all interested parties.
With the 50th anniversary at hand, and in the face of climate change impacts on water, it is time for the governments of Canada and the United States to work with the people of the Columbia River Basin to usher in a new era of principled river management.