Our Northwest congressional delegation has pleaded with federal State Department officials since 2014 to set up a process so the U.S. and Canada can renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty.
And time and again the request seems to go nowhere. We hope the lawmakers’ latest appeal finally will lead to some action.
U.S. senators and representatives from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana recently sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him and the State Department to create parameters for the treaty talks, and to insist Canada appoint a lead negotiator.
According to U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., the State Department said it intended to start treaty negotiations in 2016. But despite multiple letters from Congress urging action, progress has yet to be made.
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This is discouraging and, frankly, irritating. The lack of immediate deadline pressure is no reason to delay setting the course.
The Columbia River Treaty is a complex document between the United States and Canada, and has provided the framework for hydropower production and flood control on the Columbia River since it was ratified in 1964.
It has turned the 1,243-mile Columbia into one of the most tightly controlled rivers in the world.
The treaty hit its 50-year anniversary in 2014 and that opened the door for review. Portions of the agreement expire in 2024, but officials with either the U.S. or Canada can give a 10-year notice that they wish to modify the agreement.
And that is what our Northwest delegation is trying to do.
With an expiration date now eight years away, State Department officials may not believe there is a sense of urgency surrounding this issue. But they are wrong.
The Columbia River Treaty is bound to take time to re-negotiate and our Northwest lawmakers are right to want the process started as soon as possible.
Their latest letter says that the Columbia River plays a “critical role in the economy and the culture in the Northwest region” and that “potential management changes initiated through the treaty could have major impacts far into the future.”
One of the priorities for the U.S. will be to re-negotiate the amount paid to Canada for the role it plays in producing hydropower. Native American tribes in the U.S. and in Canada also have been pushing for the treaty to include the return of fish runs that were destroyed by some of the dams.
These are complicated issues by themselves, but there also are agriculture, recreation, navigation and environmental concerns to consider. Reaching an agreement will be a monumental task.
Management of the Columbia River is a huge responsibility for both countries, and there is too much at stake to risk putting these crucial negotiations off any longer.
Time is running out. Federal officials need to set up treaty talks with Canada before another year goes by.