US sets position for Columbia River bargaining

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm •  Published: December 13, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The United States has staked out its position for potential negotiations with Canada over a treaty governing hydropower and flood control on the Columbia River, and it seeks to keep more of the energy produced at dams.

The final recommendations, sent by U.S. regulators to the State Department on Friday, also call for making ecosystem improvements a third primary purpose of the treaty — in addition to flood control and production of hydropower.

The treaty, which was signed in 1964 and governs operations of dams and reservoirs on the fourth-largest river in North America, has no expiration date. But either country may cancel it or suggest changes beginning in 2024 with 10 years' notice.

The United States' position is that it should pay dramatically less for the benefits it gets through the treaty.

The U.S. has paid Canada a one-time payment of $64 million for flood control for the first 60 years of the treaty. And annually, it sends Canada half the increased power generation at downstream U.S. hydropower dams. That increased power results from the operation of additional storage capacity created by the three dams built in Canada.

Earlier, when Canada didn't need hydropower, the U.S. sold that power to utilities in the U.S. for $254 million over the first 30 years of the treaty. Canada used that money to finance the construction of its three Columbia River dams. The last payment to Canada under the first 30-year power sales contract was in 2003.

Since then, the U.S. delivers the power benefits of the treaty directly to Canada. The delivery is valued at approximately $250 million to $350 million a year.

The U.S. now says that because it has paid off the cost of the Canadian dams, it should send less power as part of its Canadian Entitlement obligations.

Instead, the U.S. says future payment calculations should be based on how Canada runs the system to benefit the U.S. Under the treaty, Canada stores water behind three major dams for flood control and to maximize hydropower generation.

U.S. regulators say flood risk level and hydropower production should remain at a similar level if the treaty is renegotiated, and any savings achieved through the increase in power benefits that would remain in the U.S. should benefit both the ecosystem and power users.

According to the recommendations, the treaty should also include ways to mitigate for the impacts of climate change and to aid threatened and endangered species that weren't considered when the treaty was created decades ago.

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