The Columbia River has its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies and flows through Canada, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The Columbia River is the largest producer of hydropower in the US, with 31 dams owned and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Bureau of Reclamation. Following devastating flooding along the river from British Columbia to Astoria, Oregon in 1948, the two countries began discussions to coordinate measures for reducing flood risk and supporting hydropower generation. These discussions resulted in the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), which was ratified in 1961 and implemented in 1964.
The CRT provided for construction and operation of four dams and reservoirs, three in Canada and one in Montana. These dams doubled the amount of available storage for flood water and provided the US with flexibility for flood water operations. Water releases from the dams during fall and winter smooth out the Columbia’s seasonal flow, allowing reliable electricity generation to meet power demands, and creating reservoir capacity for spring snowmelt runoff and rainfall.
In exchange for floodwater storage at the Canadian dams, the CRT required the US to pay a total of $64.4 million to Canada as each CRT dam was put into operation. This payment covered costs of annual flood control plans for the first 60 years of the treaty (through September 2024). Increased annual hydropower generation benefits at the downstream dams in the US were shared equally under the CRT. The Canadian share of power generation, which is known as the “Canadian Entitlement” is delivered from the United States to Canada, and is estimated to range from $229 million to $335 million annually.
The CRT has no specified end date but contains provisions that will change its implementation in 2024. Either country was allowed to terminate most provisions of the CRT in 2024 by providing a minimum of 10 years written notice in 2014.
The US Entity overseeing the CRT--the US Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration—provided a Regional Recommendation to the State Department in December 2013 recommending that the CRT be continued with modifications to the Canadian Entitlement and flood control provisions. The US Entity also recommended adding provisions to benefit Columbia River fisheries. The Canadian Entity—the Province of British Columbia—released its recommendations in March 2013 for continuing the CRT with modifications. Negotiations between the two countries began in 2018, with 14 rounds of negotiations, town halls and community meetings held between 2018 and October 2022.
The Executive Branch—the President and the State Department—are responsible for negotiating modifications to the CRT. If the CRT is modified, it would be ratified by the Senate.