Columbia River Treaty Review




Columbia River Treaty Review
Updated December 15, 2020
Congressional Research Service
https://crsreports.congress.gov
R43287




Columbia River Treaty Review

Summary
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT, or Treaty) is an international agreement between the United
States and Canada for the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the
Columbia River Basin to provide for flood control and power. The Treaty was the result of more
than 20 years of negotiations between the two countries and was ratified in 1961. Implementation
began in 1964.
The Treaty provided for the construction and operation of three dams in Canada and one dam in
the United States whose reservoir extends into Canada. Together, these dams more than doubled
the amount of reservoir storage available in the basin and provided significant flood protection
benefits. In exchange for these benefits, the United States agreed to provide Canada with lump-
sum cash payments and a portion of downstream hydropower benefits that are attributable to
Canadian operations under the CRT, known as the “Canadian Entitlement.” Some have estimated
the Canadian Entitlement to be worth as much as $335 mil ion annual y.
The CRT has no specific end date, and most of its provisions would continue indefinitely without
action by the United States or Canada. Currently, either the United States or Canada can terminate
most provisions of the CRT with a minimum of 10 years’ written notice. To date, neither country
has given notice of termination, but both countries have indicated a preliminary interest in
modification of the treaty. If the CRT is not terminated or modified, most of its provisions would
continue, with the exception of its flood control provisions (which are scheduled to transition
automatical y to “cal ed-upon” operations at that time, meaning the United States would request
and compensate Canada for flood control operations as necessary).
Perspectives on the CRT and its review vary. Some believe the Treaty should include stronger
provisions related to tribal resources and flows for fisheries that are not in the Treaty; others
disagree and focus on the perceived need to adjust the Canadian Entitlement to reflect actual
hydropower benefits. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonnevil e Power
Administration, in their joint role as the U.S. Entity overseeing the Treaty, undertook a review of
the CRT from 2009 to 2013. Based on studies and stakeholder input, they provided a Regional
Recommendation to the State Department in December 2013. They recommended continuing the
Treaty with certain modifications, including rebalancing the CRT’s hydropower provisions,
further delineating cal ed-upon flood control operations after 2024, and incorporating into the
Treaty flows to benefit Columbia River fisheries. For its part, the Canadian Entity (the Province
of British Columbia) released in March 2013 a recommendation to continue the CRT with
modifications “within the Treaty framework.” It disputed several assumptions in the U.S. Entity’s
review process.
Following a two-year federal interagency review of the U.S. Regional Recommendation, the U.S.
State Department finalized its negotiating parameters and authorized talks with Canada in
October 2016. Between 2018 and 2020, U.S. and Canadian negotiating teams held 10 rounds of
negotiations.
If the executive branch comes to an agreement regarding modification of the CRT, it may ask the
Senate to weigh in on future versions of the Treaty, pursuant to its constitutional role to provide
advice and consent. If notice of Treaty termination is given, it is unclear whether such a notice
would be reversible within the 10-year window and how Congress might inform such a decision.
During Treaty review and negotiations, both houses have weighed in on CRT-related activities
through their oversight roles.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 4 link to page 5 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 9 link to page 10 link to page 11 link to page 11 link to page 12 link to page 13 link to page 14 link to page 14 link to page 15 link to page 6 link to page 8 link to page 16 Columbia River Treaty Review

Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
History and Background................................................................................................... 2
Columbia River Treaty Review ......................................................................................... 6
Technical Studies....................................................................................................... 6
Treaty Review Regional Recommendations ................................................................... 6
Status of Treaty Negotiations....................................................................................... 7
Perspectives on Columbia River Treaty Review ................................................................... 8
U.S. Entity and Stakeholders ....................................................................................... 8
Status of the Canadian Entitlement.......................................................................... 9
Flows to Improve Ecosystems as a New Treaty Purpose ........................................... 10
Uncertainties Related to “Cal ed-Upon” Flood Control ............................................ 11
Canadian Perspectives on CRT Review ....................................................................... 11
The Role of Congress in Treaty Review ............................................................................ 12

Figures
Figure 1. Columbia River Basin and Dams.......................................................................... 3
Figure 2. Columbia River Basin: Relative Storage of Dams ................................................... 5

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 13

Congressional Research Service

link to page 9 Columbia River Treaty Review

Introduction
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT, or Treaty), signed in 1961, is an international agreement
between the United States and Canada for the cooperative development and operation of the
water resources of the Columbia River Basin for the benefit of flood control and power.1
Precipitated by several flooding events in the basin (including a major flood in the Northwest in
1948), the CRT was the result of more than 20 years of negotiations seeking a joint resolution to
address flooding and plan for development of the basin’s water resources. The Treaty provided
for 15.5 mil ion acre-feet of additional storage in Canada through the construction of four dams
(three in Canada, one in the United States). This storage, along with agreed-upon operating plans,
provides flood control, hydropower, and other downstream benefits. In exchange for these
benefits, the United States agreed to provide Canada with lump-sum cash payments and a portion
of hydropower benefits, known as the “Canadian Entitlement.”
Implementation of the CRT began in 1964. The Treaty has no specific end date, and most of its
provisions would continue indefinitely without action by the U.S. or Canadian Entities.2
Currently, either the United States or Canada can terminate most provisions of the CRT with a
minimum of 10 years’ written notice. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the
Bonnevil e Power Administration (BPA), in their designated role as the “U.S. Entity,” undertook a
review of the Treaty beginning in 2011. Based on studies and additional stakeholder input, the
U.S. Entity made its recommendation to the U.S. Department of State in December 2013. If the
Treaty is not terminated or modified, most of its current provisions would continue, with the
notable exception of flood control operations, which are scheduled to end in 2024 and transition
to “cal ed-upon” operations.3
Perspectives on the CRT and its review vary. Some believe that the Treaty should continue but be
altered to include, for example, guarantees related to tribal resources and fisheries flows that were
not included in the original Treaty. Others believe that the Canadian Entitlement should be
adjusted to more equitably share actual hydropower benefits, or even be eliminated entirely. For
its part, Canada has stated that without the Canadian Entitlement (or with alterations that would
decrease its share of these revenues), it sees no reason for the Treaty to continue. The final
Regional Recommendation to the Department of State, coordinated by the U.S. Entity, was to
continue the Treaty post-2024, but with modifications. The State Department has since finalized
its proposed negotiating parameters, although they are not available to the public. The Canadian
recommendation, finalized in March 2013, also favored continuing the treaty, but with
modifications “within the Treaty framework,” some of which were considerably different than
those recommended by the United States.
The executive branch, through the State Department, is responsible for negotiations related to the
CRT. However, the Senate, through its constitutional role to provide advice and consent, has the
power to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the executive branch. Changes to
the CRT may or may not trigger such a vote; in any case, the Senate may choose to review any

1 T he CRT is different, and was considered separately, from tribal fisheries treaty rights on the Columbia River. For
more information on these treaty rights, see http://www.critfc.org/.
2 Implementation of the Treaty occurs through the U.S. Entity (BPA and the Northwestern Division of the Corps,
jointly, with the BPA Administrator as Chair and the Corps as a member) and the Canadian Entity (the British
Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, or BC Hydro).
3 Flood control provided by the Canadian projects would still continue, but is expected to transition to “called-upon”
operations at that time. T his means that the United States would request and compensate Canada for flood control
operations. See below section, “ Columbia River T reaty Review,” for more information.
Congressional Research Service

1

link to page 6 link to page 8 link to page 15 Columbia River Treaty Review

changes to the CRT, including a termination notice.4 In addition, both houses of Congress may
choose to weigh in on ongoing Treaty review and negotiation activities by the U.S. Entity through
their respective oversight powers.
This report provides a brief overview of the Columbia River Treaty review. It includes
background on the history of the basin and consideration of the treaty, as wel as a brief summary
of studies and analyses of the Columbia River Treaty review process to date.
History and Background
The Columbia River is the predominant river in the Pacific Northwest and is one of the largest in
the United States in terms of volume flowing to the ocean. The Columbia River Basin receives
water that drains from approximately 259,500 square miles in the northwestern United States and
southwestern Canada, including parts of British Columbia in Canada, and four U.S. states:
Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The basin is unique among large river basins in the
United States because of its high annual runoff, limited amount of storage (in the U.S. portion of
the basin), and extreme variation in flow levels. The basin has the second-largest runoff in the
United States in terms of average flows (275,000 cubic feet per second), and approximately 60%
of this runoff occurs in May, June, and July. While only about 15% of the river basin’s surface
area is in Canada, the Canadian portion of the basin accounts for a considerably larger share of
the basin’s average annual runoff volume.5
The Columbia River is the largest hydropower-producing river system in the United States.
Federal development of the river’s hydropower capacity dates to 1932, when the federal
government initiated construction of dams of the Columbia River and its tributaries. In total, 31
federal dams within the Columbia River Basin are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (part of the Department of the Interior),
and additional dams are owned by nonfederal entities. The BPA, part of the Department of
Energy, markets power from federal dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries (collectively
known as the Federal Columbia River Power System, FCRPS). Other than the largest of these
facilities, Grand Coulee (which has some storage capacity), most of these facilities on the main
stem of the river in the United States have limited reservoir storage and are managed as “run of
the river” for hydropower, flood control, and navigation.6 Figure 1, below, provides an overview
of the basin, including dam ownership. Figure 2 shows the relative storage capacity of these
dams.
The basin is also important habitat for a number of fish species. Economical y important species
in the region include steelhead trout; chinook, coho, chum, and sockeye salmon; and other
species. These fish are important to commercial and sport anglers as wel as Native American
tribes in the region. The basin also provides habitat for several threatened and endangered species
listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA, 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1543); requirements under this
law are an important factor in the operation of the FCRPS.
Other major uses of the basin’s waters include navigation, irrigation, recreation, and water supply.
Four federal dams on the river’s mainstem have navigation locks which al ow for barge traffic to
transport bulk commodities that are important to regional and national economies. Due to this
infrastructure, the Columbia River is navigable up to 465 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean.

4 See below section, “ T he Role of Congress in T reaty Review.”
5 In most years, it is estimated that the Canadian part of the basin accounts for 38%-50% of the basin’s runoff.
6 Notably, some headwaters projects have flood storage, including Libby, Hungry Horse, and Dworshak.
Congressional Research Service

2


Columbia River Treaty Review

Six percent of the basin’s water is diverted for irrigated agriculture, and is particularly important
in eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and southern Idaho. Basin waters are also diverted
for other water supply purposes, and the rivers and reservoirs of the basin are important for
recreational users. Al of these users have an interest in management of basin water supplies.
Figure 1. Columbia River Basin and Dams

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2011.
The negotiation and ratification of the CRT were precipitated by several events in the basin. Most
notably, a major flood event in the Northwest in 1948, the Vanport flood, caused significant
damage throughout the basin and served as the impetus for negotiations between the United
States and Canada, including studies by the International Joint Commission (IJC).7 Initial y,

7 T he IJC was established by the Boundary Waters T reaty of 1909, which established principles and mechanisms to
help resolve disputes concerning water quantity and quality along the U.S.-Canada boundary. T he IJC is a joint
Congressional Research Service

3

link to page 8 Columbia River Treaty Review

following the flood, the United States had proposed in 1951 to build Libby Dam in Montana
(which would flood 42 miles into Canada). Canada was opposed to this solution, and as a
response proposed to divert as much as 15.5 mil ion acre feet from the Columbia River for its
own purposes. Based on a number of technical studies, the IJC recommended a compromise,
which included development of upriver storage in Canada to help regulate flows on the Columbia
River, including those for flood control and hydropower generation.
The CRT was signed in 1961 but was not fully ratified by both countries (and therefore did not go
into effect) until 1964. Implementation of the Treaty occurs through the U.S. Entity (BPA and the
Northwestern Division of the Corps, jointly) and the Canadian Entity (the British Columbia
Hydro and Power Authority, or BC Hydro).8 The Treaty provided for the construction of 15.5
mil ion acre-feet (Maf) of additional storage in Canada through the construction of three dams:
Duncan (completed in 1968), Hugh Keenleyside, or Arrow (completed in 1969), and Mica
(completed in 1973). Construction of Libby Dam in Montana, whose reservoir backs 42 miles
into Canada, was completed in 1973. Together, the four dams more than doubled the amount of
reservoir storage available in the basin before construction began, providing for significant new
flood protection and power benefits throughout the basin (see Figure 2). The CRT also required
that the United States and Canada prepare an “Assured Operating Plan” (to meet flood control
and power objectives) for the operation of Canadian storage six years in advance of each
operating year. Along with “Detailed Operating Plans,” which may also be developed to produce
more advantageous results for both U.S. and Canadian operating entities, these plans govern
project operations under the Treaty.9
Under the CRT, the United States gained operational benefits in the form of flexible storage and
reliable operations in Canada that provide for flood control and hydropower generation. In
exchange, Canada (through the Canadian Entity) receives lump-sum payments from the United
States for flood control benefits through 2024, as wel as a portion of annual hydropower benefits
from the operation of Canadian Treaty storage. In exchange for the assured use of 8.45 Maf
annual y of Canadian storage, the United States paid $64.4 mil ion to Canada for flood control
benefits as the three Canadian dams became operational. Under the CRT, Canada is also entitled
to half of the estimated increase in downstream hydropower generated at U.S. dams.10 Canada
initial y sold this electricity (known as the “Canadian Entitlement”) to a consortium of U.S.
utilities for $254 mil ion over a 30-year term (1973-2003).11 Currently, the United States delivers
the Canadian Entitlement directly to Canada through BPA’s Northern Intertie. The U.S. Entity has
estimated the value of the Canadian Entitlement at a range of $229 mil ion to $335 mil ion
annual y, depending on a number of factors.12

international body. More information is available at http://www.ijc.org/en_/
Role_of_the_Commission#sthash.zDSIT n0p.dpuf.
8 Executive Order 11177, “Providing for Certain Arrangements Under the Columbia River T reaty,” 29 C.F.R. §13097.
September 16, 1964.
9 For example, since 1995, Detailed Operating Plans under Article XIV of the T reaty have provided e xtra flow storage
of 1 million acre-feet per year for fisheries flows.
10 T he amount of the Canadian Entitlement is based on a formula which calculates the theoretical value of additional
generation from Canadian dams.
11 T ogether with the flood control payments, these payments largely financed the construction of the Canadian
facilities.
12 U.S. Entity, “Columbia River T reaty 2014/2024 Review: Recent Study Results,” June 2012, http://www.crt2014-
2024review.gov/Files/Columbia%20River%20T reaty%20Recent%20Study%20Results%20 -
%20FINAL%20June%202012%20-%20singles.pdf. Hereinafter “ U.S. Entity, Recent Study Results.”
Congressional Research Service

4


Columbia River Treaty Review

Figure 2. Columbia River Basin: Relative Storage of Dams

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2012.
Note: “Maf” indicates “mil ion acre-feet.”
Several notable changes to Columbia River operations since ratification of the CRT factor into
current negotiations. Most notably, declining populations of salmon and steelhead in the
Columbia and Snake Rivers led to listings under the Endangered Species Act (ESA, 16 U.S.C.
§§1531-1543) beginning in 1991. These listings have resulted in steps to improve salmon and
steelhead habitat in the United States, including operational changes (e.g., augmented spring and
summer flows) and mitigation actions (e.g., construction of fish passage facilities).13 For more
information on these listings and related federal actions, see CRS Report R40169, Endangered
Species Act Litigation Regarding Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead
, by Stephen P. Mulligan
and Harold F. Upton.

13 As noted above, limited operational changes on both sides of the border have occurred pursuant to supplemental
agreements under the T reaty.
Congressional Research Service

5

Columbia River Treaty Review

Columbia River Treaty Review
The CRT has no specific end date, and most of its provisions—except those related to flood
control operations—would continue indefinitely without action by the United States or Canada.
Currently, either the United States or Canada can terminate most provisions of the CRT with a
minimum of 10 years’ written notice. The Corps and the BPA, in their role as the U.S. Entity,
undertook a review of the Treaty and delivered a final recommendation to the Department of
State in December 2013.
If negotiations do not result in Treaty termination or modification, most of the Treaty’s provisions
would continue, with the notable exception of flood control operations. Assured annual flood
control operations under the Treaty are scheduled to end in 2024, independent of a decision on
Treaty termination. Flood control provided by the Canadian projects is expected to transition to
“cal ed-upon” operations at this time. Under cal ed-upon operations, the United States would be
al owed to request alterations to Canadian operations as necessary for flood control, and Canada
would be responsible for making these changes. In exchange, the United States would pay for
operating costs and economic losses in Canada due to the changed operation.14
Technical Studies
As noted above, the U.S. Entity undertook a series of studies and reports to inform the parties
who are reviewing the CRT (this process is also known as “Treaty review”).15 The U.S. Entity
undertook its studies with significant input from a sovereign review team (SRT), a group of
regional representatives with whom the U.S. Entity has worked to develop its recommendation on
the future of the Treaty. The SRT is made up of representatives of the 4 Northwest states, 15 tribal
governments, and 11 federal agencies.16 In collaboration with the SRT, the U.S. Entity has also
conducted stakeholder outreach so as to provide for additional input from other interests in
developing a recommendation.
The U.S. Entity conducted its technical studies in three iterations. Iteration 1 focused on physical
effects of system operations (i.e., effects on hydropower production, etc., not the effects on
ecology), and modeled both current and future scenarios.17 Iterations 2 and 3 included additional
analysis of various scenarios, such as modeling effects on fish and wildlife habitat and species.
Since Treaty review began, the U.S. Entity has also produced a number of summary reports and
fact sheets on Treaty review and potential future scenarios.18
Treaty Review Regional Recommendations
On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Entity shared an initial working draft of its recommendation with the
Department of State for comments. On September 20, 2013, the Entity released its Draft Regional
Recommendation for additional review and comment through October 25, 2013. The U.S. Entity

14 T he T reaty does not describe the methodologies and procedures for how called-upon flood control would be
implemented after 2024. T hose details, including potential costs for these operations, still need to be resolved between
the two nations. Canada and the United States disagreed with some of the initial assumptions regarding implementation
of called upon flood control by the U.S. Entity in its T reaty review studies.
15 Separately, Canada has undertaken its own studies.
16 A complete roster is available at http://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/Files/SRT %20Roster%20May%202013.pdf.
17 For a summary of these studies, see U.S. Entity, Recent Study Results.
18 T he U.S. Entity posted most of this information on its T reaty review website at http://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/.
Congressional Research Service

6

link to page 9 Columbia River Treaty Review

delivered the final Regional Recommendation to the Department of State in December 13, 2013.19
The recommendation, which reflects U.S. Entity study results as wel as stakeholder comments, is
to modify the Treaty post-2024. The executive branch, through the State Department, wil make
the final determination on those changes to the Treaty that are in the national interest and wil
conduct any negotiations with Canada related to the future of the CRT. This process may involve
additional coordination with the U.S. Entity and regional stakeholders.
In its Regional Recommendation, the U.S. Entity notes that the Treaty provides benefits to both
countries, but recommends that it be modernized so as to “[ensure] a more resilient and healthy
ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable
level of flood risk and preserving reliable and economic hydropower benefits.”20 The
recommendation included nine “general principles” for future negotiations, as wel as several
specific recommendations related to alterations of the existing Treaty.21
Some of the notable recommendations for modifications to the Treaty by the U.S. Entity included
providing stream flows to promote populations of anadromous and resident fish. This could come
through the expansion of agreements to further augment flows for spring and summer (with these
flows coming from reduced fal and winter drafts—also known as drawdowns—in Canadian
reservoirs) and development of a joint program for fish passage.22 Other recommendations
included minimizing adverse effects on tribal resources; incorporating a dry-year strategy;
rebalancing the power benefits between the two countries;23 and implementing post-2024 CRT
flood risk management, including effective use and cal ed-upon flood storage, through a
coordinated operation plan and definition of “reasonable compensation” for Canada.24 Final y, the
recommendation also suggests that, fol owing negotiations with Canada over the CRT, the
Administration should review membership of the U.S. Entity.25
Status of Treaty Negotiations
On October 7, 2016, the State Department finalized U.S. negotiating parameters for the CRT and
formal y authorized talks with Canada through the State Department Circular 175 Procedure.26
The document, which is not available to the public, was the culmination of a two-year
interagency review process, which itself built on the Regional Recommendation for Treaty

19 U.S. Entity, “U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River T reaty after 2023.”
December 13, 2013. http://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/Files/
Regional%20Recommendation%20Final,%2013%20DEC%202013.pdf . Hereinafter, “ Regional Recommendation.”
20 Regional Recommendation, p. 2.
21 For a full list of the general principles, see Regional Recommendation, p. 3. Detailed recommendations are available
on p. 4 of the Regional Recommendation.
22 T he Regional Recommendation noted that these changes should not detract from existing T reaty obligations. See
Regional Recommendation, p. 5.
23 T he Regional Recommendation states that CRT power benefits are not equitably shared and that Canada is deriving
substantially greater value from coordinated power operations than the United States. See Regional Recommendation,
p. 4.
24 Under the original CRT , many of the specific details related to called-upon storage were not defined. See footnote
14.
25 T his could potentially include a third member of the U.S. Entity representing the “ecosystem function,” depending on
the extent to which this change is incorporated in T reaty modification.
26 For more information, see https://www.state.gov/treaty-procedures/.
Congressional Research Service

7

Columbia River Treaty Review

modification.27 After finalizing its negotiating parameters, the United States requested
engagement with the Canadian Foreign Ministry.
Negotiations between the U.S. and Canadian negotiating teams formal y began on May 29-30,
2018.28 From 2018 to 2020, the two countries held 10 rounds of negotiations, with the last round
of negotiations during the Trump Administration held on June 29 and 30, 2020, via
teleconference.29 According to the State Department, the U.S. negotiating position is guided by
the U.S. Entity’s Regional Recommendation and includes participation on the negotiating team
by the Department of State, BPA, the Corps, the Department of the Interior, and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.30 The State Department and the Province of British
Columbia have also convened town hal s and community meetings to discuss the status of
negotiations with the public.31
Perspectives on Columbia River Treaty Review
Various perspectives on the Columbia River Treaty and the review process have been represented
in studies, meetings, and other public forums that have been conducted since Treaty review
began. The Regional Recommendation represents the views of the U.S. Entity and the SRT, as
wel as many of the stakeholders who have weighed in through meetings and the public comment
process.32 However, the Regional Recommendation does not represent the final U.S. approach to
Treaty review. The executive branch, through the State Department, wil handle those
negotiations.
To date, the primary Canadian perspectives provided on Treaty review have been central y
coordinated by the British Columbia (BC) provincial government, and BC announced its own
decision on March 13, 2014.33 BC recommends continuing the Treaty, but seeking modifications
within the existing framework. A summary of the perspectives of the U.S. Entity, selected U.S.
stakeholders, and BC is provided below.
U.S. Entity and Stakeholders
To date, studies by the U.S. Entity have general y concluded that although the CRT has been
mutual y beneficial to the United States and Canada, not al benefits have been shared equitably,
and the Treaty should be “modernized.” Studies by the U.S. Entity concluded that under a

27 T he process was led by the National Security Council, which designated the Department of State to coordinate and
oversee an interagency policy review of the Regional Recommendation. T he Interagency Policy Committee included
the National Security Council; the White House Council on Environmental Quality; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers;
and the Departments of State, Energy, Commerce, the Interior, and others.
28 U.S. Department of Stat e, “On the Opening of Negotiations to Modernize the Columbia River T reaty Regime.” May
30, 2018, at https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/05/282867.htm. Hereinafter “ State Department May 2018
Announcement.”
29 U.S. Department of State, “Conclusion of the T enth Round of the Columbia River T reaty Negotiations,” press
release, June 30, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/conclusion-of-the-tenth-round-of-the-columbia-river-treaty-
negotiations/.
30 State Department May 2018 Announcement.
31 For additional information on these efforts by the State Department, see https://www.state.gov/columbia-river-treaty/
. For a summary of efforts by the Province of British Columbia, see https://engage.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/.
32 T he full list of comments is available at http://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=
199.
33 T hese comments are consolidated at http://blog.gov.bc.ca/columbiarivertreaty/.
Congressional Research Service

8

Columbia River Treaty Review

scenario where the Treaty continues, both governments would continue to benefit from assured
operating plans that provide for predictable power and flood control benefits, among other things.
These same studies general y found that without the CRT, Canada would be able to operate its
dams for its own benefit (except for cal ed-upon flood storage, which would stil be an obligation
regardless of termination). This could make U.S. hydropower generation more difficult to control
and predict, and could also result in species impacts if advantageous flows are not agreed upon
ahead of time. Despite this unpredictability, the United States would gain some advantages from
Treaty termination. Studies by the U.S. Entity have concluded that a relatively large financial
benefit for the United States would likely result from terminating the Treaty (and eliminating the
Canadian Entitlement), while Canada would likely see reduced financial benefits from
hydropower generation under a scenario that abolishes the Canadian Entitlement.34 However,
rather than recommend termination, the U.S. Entity has recommended modification of the Treaty,
including a “rebalanced” Canadian Entitlement and assurances for flows to improve ecosystems,
among other things.
While most stakeholders acknowledge benefits of the CRT, several groups and individuals
submitted comments criticizing the Regional Recommendation and/or its earlier drafts. Based on
these comments, major areas of debate can general y be divided into three categories: how to
handle the Canadian Entitlement, how (or whether) to incorporate flows to benefit fisheries into
the current coequal Treaty goals of hydropower and flood control, and specifics related to future
cal ed-upon flood management operations.
Status of the Canadian Entitlement
The status of the Canadian Entitlement to one-half of the hydropower contributed by its dam
operations has been a matter of contention, especial y among power interests. The final Regional
Recommendation cal s for “rebalancing” of the Canadian Entitlement, without specifics as to
what extent it should be rebalanced. While power interests have general y stopped short of cal ing
for termination of the CRT, they criticized the lack of specifics in earlier drafts of the
recommendation, and emphasized their view that the single biggest shortcoming of the CRT is
that hydropower benefits have not been shared equal y.35 In their public comments, many power
interests noted that the Canadian Entitlement should be revised to provide a more equitable
methodology for dividing hydropower generation benefits between the countries.36 Some of these
groups believe that because more than half of the actual generation under Treaty-related
operations is being returned to British Columbia, the current Canadian Entitlement deprives U.S.
power customers of low-cost power, effectively increasing electricity rates in the Northwest.
Some suggest that the status of the Canadian Entitlement, rather than ecosystem flows (discussed
below), should be the focus of Treaty modernization.37

34 Studies have estimated that the Canadian Entitlement is worth approximately $229 million -$335 million annually,
and that net annual revenues for the United States would increase by about $180 million to $280 million, while
Canadian revenues would decrease approximately $220 million to $320 million. See U.S. Entity, Recent Study Results,
pp. 6-7.
35 As stated previously, the Canadian Entitlement amount was a theoretical amount calculated when the CRT was
originally negotiated, and did not take into account requirements to regulate and maintain fisheries in the United States
that have subsequently been required and have resulted in a reduction in hydropower generation and revenues since
T reaty ratification.
36 See, for example, T acoma Public Utilities, Public Comment for the Columbia River T reaty Review, August 16,
2013, at http://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=199.
37 See, for example, Public Power Council, Public Comment for the Columbia River T reaty Review, August 6, 2013, at
https://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=199.
Congressional Research Service

9

link to page 5 link to page 5 Columbia River Treaty Review

Flows to Improve Ecosystems as a New Treaty Purpose
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Treaty review stems from the fact that the 1964
Treaty did not include fisheries or ecosystem flows along with the Treaty’s other primary
purposes of flood control and hydropower. Subsequent to the Treaty’s ratification, Canada and the
United States agreed under the Treaty’s Detailed Operating Plans to maintain an additional 1
mil ion acre-feet of storage at Canadian dams for flows to improve fisheries. As noted above, the
U.S. Entity has recommended that a new Treaty take into account ecosystem flows and include as
part of the U.S. Entity a federal fisheries representative.
While tribal and environmental groups have general y agreed that provisions for ecosystem-based
functions should be incorporated into the agreement, some also have argued that the proposed
recommendations for Treaty modifications did not go far enough in providing for these purposes.
They have cal ed for the ecosystem function to be explicitly added as a third purpose of the
Treaty, to be treated coequal y with hydropower production and flood risk management. Interests
have argued that the Regional Recommendation’s approach (which mentions the ecosystem
function but does not cal for it to be treated as a coequal purpose) would effectively subordinate
these changes to the other two purposes.38 They acknowledge that adding the ecosystem function
as a coequal purpose would likely entail operational changes on the Columbia River in both
countries beyond those currently provided for under the ESA, for example. One of the primary
goals of these changes would be augmented flows for fisheries in spring and summer months and
during water shortages.
Conversely, some power interests (including some BPA customers) are concerned with the
approach in the Regional Recommendation for the opposite reason: they think that the
recommendation embodies more accommodations for ecosystem flows than should be provided.
Thus, they oppose efforts to add ecosystem purposes as a stated coequal purpose of the Treaty. In
the comment process, some stakeholders noted that ecosystem flows are already prioritized in
both countries through major operational changes that have been required since the Treaty was
ratified.39 In addition to recent increases in storage for fisheries flows, they point to the listings of
salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake Rivers under the ESA, along with related
operational changes and mitigation, as having benefited fisheries.40 They also note that BPA’s
power customers already make significant contributions to mitigation through power rates, which
have been estimated by some to provide more than $250 mil ion per year to improve fish and
wildlife flows.41 Final y, some have expressed concern with potential y inherent contradictions
between the maintenance of existing hydropower operations under the Treaty and expanded
spring and summer flows to benefit fisheries.42 They believe that further operational changes of
this type wil be damaging to the Northwest economy and to ratepayers.

38 Save Our Wild Salmon, Public Comment for the Columbia River T reaty Review, http://www.bpa.gov/applications/
publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=199.
39 See for example, Northwest River Partners, Public Comment for the Public River T reaty Review, August 16, 2013,
http://nwriverpartners.org/images/NWRP_T reaty_Letter_8-16-13.pdf. Hereinafter “ Northwest River Partners
Comment.” For background on these efforts, see previous section, “ History and Background.”
40 See previous section, “ History and Background.”
41 Northwest River Partners Comment.
42 Western Montana Electric Generating & T ransmission Cooperative, Inc., Public Comment for the Columbia River
T reaty Review, August 16, 2013. http://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=199.
Congressional Research Service

10

link to page 14 Columbia River Treaty Review

Uncertainties Related to “Called-Upon” Flood Control
A final area of concern in the Treaty review process has been the future approach to “cal ed-
upon” flood control operations. The Regional Recommendation suggests that modifications to the
CRT should include a coordinated operation plan and definition of “reasonable compensation” for
Canada for cal ed-upon flood control. Details related to these operations, in particular who wil
pay Canada for U.S. benefits and under what circumstances these operations would be required,
are noted to be necessary by both sides. These details wil need to be defined as part of the
ongoing negotiations (either in modifications to the Treaty or in future operating plans).43 During
the Treaty review process, many regional entities (including states, power ratepayers, and other
regional stakeholders) have focused on the recommendation’s uncertainty regarding payments for
these benefits. They have argued that the federal government (rather than ratepayers or other
regional beneficiaries) should be responsible for paying these costs. For its part, the U.S. Entity
has not taken a formal position on who should pay for these benefits, and has instead focused on
estimating flood risk and potential operational needs. These estimates have been a matter of
disagreement with Canada (see below section, “Canadian Perspectives on CRT Review”).
Canadian Perspectives on CRT Review
Canada, represented by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development,
has the constitutional authority to negotiate international treaties. However the Canadian Entity,
the Province of British Columbia (BC), has been the primary entity engaged in Treaty review to
date. BC initiated studies to synthesize its perspective on the Treaty beginning in 2011. These
studies resulted in a decision, finalized in March 2013, to continue the Treaty while “seeking
improvements within the existing Treaty framework.”44 The principles outlined by BC include,
among other things, specific requirements and expectations for cal ed-upon flood control
operations and a formal statement of the province’s belief that the Canadian Entitlement does not
account for the full “range” of benefits accruing to the United States and the impacts on British
Columbia. The principles also acknowledge that the potential for ecosystem-based improvements
“inside and outside the treaty” is an important consideration for the Treaty, but contend that
management of salmon populations (including restoration of habitat) is not a Treaty issue per se.45
Some of the primary differences between the two countries are explained further below.
Over the course of its review, British Columbia documented its disagreement with several of the
review findings by the U.S. Entity. It argued that, in contrast to the claims of many U.S. interests,
the United States actual y benefits from the CRT more than Canada.46 In particular, Canada
disagreed with some of the U.S. Entity findings and recommendations pertaining to flood control,
hydropower, and ecosystem flows. For instance, Canada noted its disagreement with the U.S.
Entity’s previous findings related to flood control benefits and expected operations. It argued that
the United States has saved bil ions of dollars as a result of Canadian storage over the life of the
Treaty, and that an agreed-upon operational plan for flood control storage similar to the current

43 T o date, called-upon flood control operations have not been necessary because of the flood control operations under
the 1964 treaty, and the specific details related to “called-upon” storage were not defined in the original CRT .
44 Province of British Columbia, Columbia River Treaty Review: B.C. Decision, March 13, 2014, http://blog.gov.bc.ca/
columbiarivertreaty/files/2012/03/BC_Decision_on_Columbia_River_T reaty.pdf.
45 According to the BC decision document, restoration of salmon habitat is the responsibility of the government of
Canada and should be handled outside of the T reaty.
46 Province of British Columbia, “U.S. Benefits from the Columbia River T reaty —Past, Present, and Future: A
Province of British Columbia Perspective,” June 25, 2013. Hereinafter, “British Columbia U.S. Benefits Study.”
Congressional Research Service

11

Columbia River Treaty Review

approach would be preferable to both entities in lieu of the scheduled transition to cal ed-upon
flood control operations in 2024. In particular, Canada has disagreed with the U.S. Entity’s
projections of the need and cost for cal ed-upon flood control after 2024, including the expected
runoff “trigger” for cal ed-upon Canadian flood storage.47 In essence, Canada has argued that
smal er U.S. reservoirs which are not currently used for flood control are actual y able to provide
flood storage, and would be responsible for doing so under the Treaty’s requirement that
“effective use” be made of U.S. storage before cal ed-upon storage is required (general y the
United States has not assumed this would be the case). Canada argues that these new operations
would result in forgone benefits to the United States associated with hydropower generation and
fisheries, among other things, and thus cal ed-upon operations may not be as cost-effective as
some in the United States have projected. The Canadian Entity estimates that, for power
production alone, cal ed-upon operations would result in $40 mil ion to $150 mil ion per year in
lost benefits to the United States.48 In contrast, using its own assumptions, the U.S. Entity has
previously estimated costs of between $4 mil ion and $34 mil ion per request for cal ed-upon
flood control, but has not projected the same level of losses to U.S. generating capacity.49
Canada has also argued that the Canadian Entitlement is more equitable than previous analysis by
the U.S. Entity suggested, and thus that it should remain in place. In its report on U.S. benefits,
the Canadian Entity noted that it would see no reason for the Treaty to continue or be renegotiated
without the Canadian Entitlement.50 Among other things, Canada has argued that the reliability of
operations provided for under the Treaty al ows for generation that is worth more to the United
States than the Canadian Entitlement. The Canadian Entity also noted that if the Treaty were
terminated, the lack of reliable expectations for Canadian flow would constrain U.S. hydropower
benefits.51 As previously noted, the U.S. Entity has projected that under a Treaty termination
scenario, the United States would gain significant revenue while Canadian net revenues would be
expected to decrease, largely due to the termination of the Canadian Entitlement.52
The Role of Congress in Treaty Review
The President, through the National Security Council, determines the negotiating position on the
CRT, and the State Department is responsible for conducting negotiations related to the Treaty.
However, Congress is also involved in this process. The Constitution gives the Senate the power
to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the executive branch.53 The Senate does

47 T he actual trigger for called-upon flood control operations, as well as the cost for these operations, is not currently
defined in the T reaty and is likely to be an important point in negotiations between the two countries. While the U.S.
Entity has projected that a range of peak flows at the Dalles (a large dam near the mouth of the Columbia River) from
450,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650,000 cfs would activate available Canadian storage, the Canadian Entity has
assumed that it would provide called-upon storage only once flows reach 600,000 cfs (which is expected to be rare). If
Canada only provides storage under these scenarios, some U.S. dams may need to be operated to account for an
increased flood risk.
48 British Columbia U.S. Benefits Study, p. 11.
49 In contrast to Canada, the U.S. Entity appears to have assumed limited losses associated with hydropower generation
due to altered operations for maximum power production by Canada, but has not assumed significant losses resulting
from new flood control operations at U.S. dams.
50 British Columbia U.S. Benefits Study, p. 21.
51 T o date, Canada has not produced estimates of the cost of this lack of reliability. British Columbia U.S. Benefits
Study, p. 12.
52 U.S. Entity, Recent Study Results, p. 7.
53 For more on the Senate’s role in treaty consideration, see CRS Report 98-384, Senate Consideration of Treaties, by
Congressional Research Service

12

Columbia River Treaty Review

not ratify treaties; instead it takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate may
formal y provide its advice and consent on the ratification process. The Senate is not required to
provide an up or down vote on a resolution of ratification, nor are treaties required to be
resubmitted after each Congress.54
The Senate would take up a new resolution of ratification for the CRT only if the United States
and Canada agreed to Treaty modifications and the executive branch submitted the modification
to the Senate for review. If the U.S. and Canada continued the Treaty without modification or if
either entity provided a notice of termination, there would be no apparent advice and consent role
for the Senate. In case of a termination by either country, the Treaty does not address whether
such a notice could be reversed (i.e., by a different Administration) prior to the termination date.
Over time, the House and the Senate both have weighed in on Treaty review with oversight
hearings.55 Members of Congress also have weighed in on Treaty discussions through other
avenues. For instance, the Northwest delegation (including al 26 lawmakers representing Idaho,
Montana, Oregon, and Washington) sent letters to President Obama in 2014 and 2015 expressing
concerns with the perceived slow pace of the Interagency Policy Committee review process. In
April 2015, lawmakers expressed a collective desire to finalize an Administration position and
begin negotiations with Canada in 2015.56 Most recently, on June 21, 2017, a bipartisan group of
seven House Members from Washington and Oregon wrote to President Trump requesting prompt
commencement of CRT negotiations.57 Most recently, on December 9, 2020, three Pacific
Northwest members introduced a resolution (H.Con.Res. 126) cal ing for the Secretary of State to
promptly issue a notice of termination, based on the inequity of the Treaty’s commercial power
provisions. The resolution notes that such a notice would al ow for 10 years for the U.S. and
Canada to negotiate a modernized Treaty before any changes would begin.


Author Information

Charles V. Stern

Specialist in Natural Resources Policy


Valerie Heitshusen, or http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/T reaties.htm.
54 Some treaties have lain “dormant” in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for multiple Congresses.
55 T he Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on CRT Review on November 7, 2013. See
http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=79a4a23f-1644-41e6-bea8-
3f4d3cb05656. T he House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on CRT Review on December 9, 2013. See
http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=363025.
56 Letter from Pacific Northwest Delegation to President Obama, April 14, 2015, http://www.murray.senate.gov/public/
index.cfm/2015/4/murray-wyden-defazio-walden-northwest -delegation-urge-obama-to-initiate-negotiations-on-
columbia-river-treaty-this-year.
57 Letter from Reps. Dan Newhouse, Kurt Schrader, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden, Jaime
Herrera Beutler, and Dave Reichert to President T rump, June 21, 2017.
Congressional Research Service

13

Columbia River Treaty Review



Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Congressional Research Service
R43287 · VERSION 23 · UPDATED
14