Protocols for Adaptive Water Governance: The Future of the Columbia River Treaty

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Nov 15, 2014
Nigel Bankes and Barbara Cosens

Executive Summary

This paper examines legal mechanisms for flexibility and adaptive capacity in transboundary water agreements using existing models from both the international and domestic level to inform future approaches to cooperation on management of the Columbia River.

Since 1964, the United States and Canada have cooperated in the management of the Columbia River to achieve shared benefits from flood control and hydropower generation under the provisions of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). The assured flood control provisions that govern operation of dams in Canada to control downstream flooding expire in 2024 and either Party may give notice to terminate the power sharing provisions by giving ten years notice commencing September 2014. These events, as well as changes in the basin not anticipated in 1964, have led to parallel comprehensive review processes on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side the review has been undertaken by the U.S. Entity designated under the CRT (i.e. Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration and Division Engineer of the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and on the Canada side of the border by the Province of British Columbia. In December of 2013, the U.S. Entity forwarded its Regional Recommendation to the U.S. Department of State calling for continuation of the underlying concept of shared benefits with modernization of the Treaty. In March of 2014, the Province of British Columbia released its decision on the Columbia River Treaty calling for continuation of the Treaty with negotiated improvements in the Treaty framework. Both review processes recognized the difficulty of predicting the future and acknowledged the uncertainty in water supply, demand, and timing of flow that may come with climate change; both recognized that this might warrant a degree of flexibility in the next generation of Columbia River management.

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