Better power rates possible for Mid-Columbia customers if Columbia River Treaty changes

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 7, 2013 

Changes to the Columbia River Treaty should mean better rates for Mid-Columbia public utility district customers after 2024.

But there is uncertainty about what changes to the treaty or its termination would mean for the Mid-Columbia in other areas, ranging from flood control to commercial navigation.

About 30 people, most of them representing PUDs, irrigation districts or other government agencies, attended a Pasco meeting Tuesday on the Columbia River Treaty.

The 1964 treaty between Canada and the United States led to the creation of three dams in Canada and one in Montana, and improved flood control and increased power generation on the Columbia River.

Although Canada has just 15 percent of the Columbia Basin area, that provides 38 percent of the average annual river flow.

In 2024, either country may terminate most provisions in the treaty with 10 years written notice. That means the United States needs a plan ready to continue, modify or end the treaty by next year.

Also in 2024, flood storage terms expire. Canada still must operate its three treaty dams for flood control, but has said that it expects the United States to make use of its storage capacity before it makes changes.

Studies under way by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers are looking at multiple scenarios for possible changes in how the Columbia River is managed.

Likely in less than 10 percent of years, that would mean releasing water from eight Columbia River dams operated by the Corps, including Grand Coulee, in the winter to provide more storage space in the event of a possible flood, said Matt Rea, program manager for the Corps. Canada has indicated it wants all possible dams included, not just the eight.

Studies so far show that should have little effect in the Mid-Columbia on water supply. Users would not be cut off, but it could increase pumping costs.

Changes also are not likely to have much impact on recreational use on the Mid-Columbia.

Navigation on the river could be affected under different scenarios. High water flows could make it more difficult and time consuming to move barges through locks. Low flows could affect moving cargo from Portland to the mouth of the river, which could impact exports from the Mid-Columbia.

Studies already have concluded that the United States is paying too much for the Canadian Entitlement, a payment for downstream power benefits in the United States. Canada is receiving power annually worth $250 million to $350 million.

As that payment is renegotiated, some is expected to be used to benefit PUDs, and some also would be used for other priorities including ecosystem restoration projects and programs.

Comments on the treaty may submitted by calling BPA at 800-622-4519, emailing or mailing Bonneville Power Administration, P.O. Box 3621, Portland, Oregon 97208-3621.

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