McMorris Rodgers, PNW Congressional Delegation Urge President Biden to Prioritize Modernization of Columbia River Treaty

60-year-old Columbia River Treaty delivers irreplaceable energy, irrigation, and fish habitat benefits; flood control provisions expire in 2024

Washington, D.C. – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) joined every single member of Congress from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana in sending a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to help expedite a final agreement between the U.S. and Canada to modernize and strengthen the Columbia River Treaty.  

Excerpts from the letter: 

“The United States and Canada are entering a critical period and need to conclude Treaty negotiations to avoid significant and widespread impacts to the region,” the members wrote. “Without an agreement, both countries will have to prepare for unwelcome volatility and strains on Columbia River Basin operations, including increased flood risks and economic uncertainty in the United States.”

The members concluded: “We respectfully request that you prioritize the Columbia River Treaty negotiations in your engagements with the Canadian government, encourage the Canadian government to negotiate in good faith and in the best interests of both nations, and resist the urge to link Treaty resolution with other pending bilateral issues between our countries.”

President Biden is visiting Ottawa on Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24, where he will address the Parliament of Canada. This is President Biden’s first trip to Canada since taking office. 

For more than 60 years, the Columbia River Treaty has been used to manage stewardship of the Columbia River Basin across the United States and Canada, guiding hydropower operations and flood risk management to benefit people on both sides of the border. Most provisions of the Treaty can continue indefinitely without actions from the U.S. or Canada, except the flood control provisions. If the Treaty is not modernized, the flood control provisions of the Columbia River Treaty will expire in September 2024 and the U.S. will enter into “called-upon” flood control operations, which will require the U.S. to request Canada for flood control on the U.S. side of the Columbia River Basin. 

The full text of the letter is available below and HERE.

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to make the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty a key goal of your upcoming trip to Canada and a top agenda item in any bilateral discussions with Canadian leadership. For the last six decades, the Columbia River Treaty has provided a framework for international cooperation which has helped deliver irreplaceable energy, irrigation, and fish habitat benefits to the citizens of the Pacific Northwest. Now, after years of negotiations, Presidential level leadership is required to modernize the Treaty and restore the balance and certainty necessary to support the economies of Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana and meet the evolving needs of our region. 

The Columbia River Basin is one of the greatest natural resources in the western United States, providing immeasurable economic and cultural benefits to the United States, Canada and Indigenous communities. The carbon-free hydropower generated in the Columbia River Basin delivers affordable clean power to over 60 percent of Pacific Northwest homes and businesses, accounts for 90 percent of renewable energy in the region, and increases the reliability and resiliency of the grid throughout the western United States. The Basin facilitates the movement of over $20 billion in goods from around the country to lucrative and growing international markets. Over 60 percent of wheat produced in the United States travels through the Columbia River Basin. The Basin is critical habitat for a number of fish species, including 12 populations of Endangered Species Act protected salmon and steelhead. 

Recognizing the need to strengthen the Columbia River Treaty, the United States and Canadian negotiating teams have held 15 negotiating sessions from 2018 through February 2023. While there has been some progress, the United States and Canada are entering a critical period and need to conclude Treaty negotiations to avoid significant and widespread impacts to the region. Without an agreement, both countries will have to prepare for unwelcome volatility and strains on Columbia River Basin operations, including increased flood risks and economic uncertainty in the United States.

It is important to know that our nations were spurred to enter into the Treaty in the first place, in large part, because of disastrous flooding in the Columbia River Basin in 1948.  At the time, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the cost of the damage at $102.7 million – nearly $1.3 billion today.  Moreover, the entire Basin is home to more people and businesses now than it was then.

Your visit to Canada provides a rare opportunity to push for the conclusion of Treaty negotiations and a modernization of the Columbia River Treaty. We respectfully request that you prioritize the Columbia River Treaty negotiations in your engagements with the Canadian government, encourage the Canadian government to negotiate in good faith and in the best interests of both nations, and resist the urge to link Treaty resolution with other pending bilateral issues between our countries.

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