Witnesses named for Pasco hearing today on Columbia River Treaty

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 8, 2013 

A U.S. House Committee led by Rep. Doc Hastings will hear from a diverse group of officials with interests in saving salmon, keeping electricity costs low and adequate water for irrigation when it meets in Pasco today.

The House Natural Resources Committee is holding the Tri-Cities hearing to gather regional input for the upcoming renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada and the United States.

The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Pasco City Council chambers, 525 N. Third Ave.

The public is invited to attend or to watch the hearing at naturalresources.house. gov/live on the Internet.

The Columbia River plays a vital role in the Mid-Columbia economy, providing low-cost hydropower, irrigation and navigation, said Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement.

But he has had concerns about priorities being considered as the treaty becomes ripe for renegotiation.

It's important that the treaty remains focused on the core functions of coordinated power generation and flood control, he said. Expanding the focus to also consider the river ecology, including conditions for salmon, and potential impacts of global climate change are being proposed.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, also is expected to attend.

Two panels of witnesses are planned.

The first includes Elliot Mainzer, acting administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration. Brigadier General John Kem of the Army Corps of Engineers and Kathy Eichenberger, of British Columbia, the executive director of the Columbia River Treaty Review Team, also are invited to testify.

The second panel includes those with specific interests in the Columbia River.

Representatives are invited from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; the Public Power Council; the Grant County Public Utility District; the Lane Electric Cooperative in Oregon; the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association; the Port of Pasco; the Pacific Rivers Council; Columbia River Pilots and Stevens County.

The Columbia River Treaty was prompted in part by a 1948 flood that destroyed Vanport -- Oregon's second-largest city -- because dams on the river had too little storage capacity. The treaty dams doubled that storage.

The treaty also was prompted by increased demand for electricity, which could be supplied by hydropower. As part of the treaty, Canada receives a half-share of power produced downstream, which the BPA estimates would cost Canada $250 million to $350 million a year to replace.

That provision, called the "Canadian Entitlement," is expected to be one focus of negotiations.

The treaty has no expiration date, but either Canada or the United States may end the pact in 2024 with a 10-year notice. As the deadline to give notice approaches next year, a draft recommendation has been prepared for the U.S.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald .com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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