Wyden: Strike a Better Bargain for Columbia River Basin

Treaty Should Protect Ratepayers, Endangered Species, and Keep Control in the Pacific Northwest

November 7, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called for an update to the Columbia River Treaty that lowers costs for ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest, while protecting endangered salmon, continuing flood control efforts and addressing climate change with input from regional stakeholders.

The Columbia River Treaty governs operations of the more than 1,200-mile river that flows between Canada and the United States. The Treaty has not changed significantly since the two nations first negotiated its terms in the early 1960s. Beginning in September 2014, the Treaty allows the U.S. and Canada to terminate most of its provisions, as long as notice is given 10 years in advance.

“The Treaty has served both nations well for decades,” Wyden said. “But after nearly 50 years, it is time to strike a better bargain.”

Wyden called for keeping electricity costs low for ratepayers in the region, noting that under the Treaty, the U.S. is required to pay Canada for half of the estimated power generated from dams in the Columbia River Basin in what is known as the “Canadian Entitlement.” This costs U.S. consumers about $250 to $300 million every year.

“Striking a new power benefit sharing deal with Canada based on the actual benefits to both nations is the way to proceed,” Wyden said. “Experts in the region calculate that Northwest ratepayers could save hundreds of millions of dollars if the payments to Canada were recalculated based on the power our region actually receives.”

In September, the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and regional tribes together submitted a Draft Regional Recommendation for the Columbia River. Wyden argued that the draft recommendations are a good start, but do not go far enough in addressing the problems facing the Columbia River Basin.

Wyden emphasized the importance of managing the Columbia River with input from regional stakeholders, including local tribes, and in a way that protects endangered salmon, ensures flood protection to downstream residents and takes climate change into account.

Representatives from Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps, regional tribes, utilities and water users discussed possible changes to the Columbia River Treaty in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing held Thursday morning.