By Tom Myrum | Executive Director, Washington State Water Resources Association

Flood control on the Columbia River is vital to numerous industries in the Basin including irrigation. The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) contains the agreed-upon rules for holding back or passing through significant floodwaters to avoid damage along the River. After several years of preparation, negotiations between the United States and Canada began in May of this year to address the future of flood control and other issues represented by the Treaty.

The second round of negotiations on the modernization of the CRT took place in Nelson, BC in August. The third round is scheduled for October 17th and 18th in Portland, OR. U.S. State Department Columbia River Treaty lead negotiator Jill Smail recently stated at a town hall meeting in Portland, OR that, “this is a very exciting time to be working on the treaty. People here in the Northwest have anticipated and planned for this for many years.” Ms. Smail added, “the Northwest is a pillar of the US economy and millions of people depend on flood risk management to protect their lives, property and businesses.”

Representatives from the Washington State irrigation community and the Columbia Basin Project have participated intensively for several years to shape the State Department’s positions on important issues related to flood control as Lake Roosevelt plays a central role in flood risk management on the United States side of the border. It is imperative that a modernized treaty have no detrimental impact to Grand Coulee Dam operations, Lake Roosevelt water levels or the ability of the Columbia Basin Project to pump water through the John Keys pumping plant into Banks Lake. The Keys pumping plant cannot pump water to Banks Lake below the 1208-foot lake elevation.

For 50 years, the process for coming to an annual agreed-upon “assured storage plan” will come to an end in 2024. The State Department has indicated that it hopes to have an updated agreement on flood control (and other issues) within two years of the beginning of negotiations which kicked off in May. If no agreement is reached on modernized flood control procedures by 2024 the process for coming to agreed-upon flood control will occur on an annual basis in what the treaty calls “called upon” storage. This annual process could lead to great uncertainty regarding how river flows are managed for flood control and power generation and the associated cost to the United States and its stakeholders for assuring this storage.

Irrigation representatives from the Northwest, including the Columbia Basin Project, will meet with the regional delegation staff and agency representatives when we travel to Washington, D.C. in early October. We will continue to advocate in the best interests of the Columbia Basin Project and irrigation districts statewide for an effective and reasonable modernized Treaty.

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