The B.C. government wants to keep the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty with the U.S. and recalculate the power, flood control and other benefits it provides.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett announced the decision Thursday to stick with the treaty and try to convince the U.S. government it is a fair deal. B.C. gets “downstream benefits” worth between $100 and $300 million a year from the treaty, and the U.S. has suggested that is too much.
“We believe, with all due respect to the U.S., that if all of the benefits in the U.S. are identified and valued, that in fact Canada probably does not receive enough,” Bennett said Thursday.
“There hasn’t been a major flood in the U.S. since the Canadian dams were constructed,” Bennett said. “Before the Canadian dams were constructed, there were some horrible floods causing loss of life and billions of dollars of damage. So the treaty was negotiated 50 years ago on the basis of producing power and controlling floods.”
The treaty has no expiry date, but it contains a 10-year termination clause that can be invoked by either country.
The U.S. State Department has the final say on whether it will continue the treaty or give notice to withdraw by 2024.
Officials at the Portland-based Bonneville Power Administration have recommended a “modernized framework that balances power production, flood risk management, and ecosystem-based function as the primary purposes addressed in the treaty, while also meeting other congressionally authorized purposes of the U.S. project, such as irrigation and navigation.”
On the B.C. side, dams on the Columbia system provide about half of the province’s current electricity supply.
Bennett said he expects tough negotiations, but he is confident the treaty can be settled.
“Yankee trader is an expression that I’m familiar with,” Bennett said. “They’ve always done very well on the softwood agreement it seems to me, so I’m not expecting an easy ride or anything. But the history of the treaty is that the two countries have collaborated very well.”