Rep. Dan Newhouse stressed the need Friday for the Obama administration to begin negotiations with Canada on the Columbia River Treaty.
He spent much of the day in Walla Walla County, including touring the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Snake River near Burbank, and talking with Army Corps of Engineer officials.
Seeing one of the Corps dams in his district seemed timely with issues on the Columbia River Treaty looming, he said. In addition, the nearly 53-year-old Ice Harbor Dam is due for new turbines as part of a fish-friendly pilot project.
Earlier this week Newhouse joined the entire congressional delegations of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana in a letter to President Obama, urging him to start negotiations with Canada in 2015. The treaty affects the economy, environment and flood control for more than 1,200 miles of the Columbia River and its tributaries.
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Some treaty provisions related to flood control automatically expire in 2024. It would be complicated and difficult for the United States to provide the benefits of the treaty on its own and it could affect the ability to provide power and allow for recreation and transportation on the river, Newhouse said.
“A lot of things depend on a good, workable system,” he said.
For other treaty provisions, either the United States or Canada can initiate changes, including ending the treaty as soon as 2024, with 10 years notice to the other country.
A year ago, before Newhouse took office, lawmakers urged the Obama administration to take action on the Columbia River Treaty by mid-2014, but there has yet to be any action.
The Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps were given the task of preparing recommendations, which they finished in December 2013. The Northwest Congressional delegation supports those recommendations.
Now the United States government must come to an agreement on the parameters for negotiations with Canada and initiate them, the letter said.
Newhouse met with the press before he toured the Ice harbor Dam, but had already been briefed about its turbine runner replacement project.
When existing turbines were installed in the dam, fish were not a priority, Newhouse said. The new turbine systems could reduce fish mortality.
In 2010 the Corps awarded a $10.9 million contract for two turbines, the first in the next generation of advanced equipment that could provide safer passage for young salmon and steelhead migrating to the Pacific Ocean, according to the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA is paying for the project.
This spring, the federal agencies decided to pay for a third new turbine runner at Ice Harbor.
The first of the three turbines is expected to be installed this spring.
The project elevates fish passage improvements to the highest goal, ahead of power and turbine efficiency gains, according to BPA. But the turbines also are expected to be more efficient at generating electricity, providing 3 to 4 percent more power from the same volume of water.
In the new design a more stable water pressure will be maintained through the runner, the portion of the turbine that rotates in the water to generate power. The drop in water pressure as fish pass downstream through the runner can kill fish.
If the new turbines work as well as expected, they could be available for other Corps dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.