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U.S. Columbia River Users Seek 'Better Bargain' With Canada

US Army Corps of Engineers
File photo of Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

U.S. senators from the Northwest say it is time "to strike a better bargain" with Canada over hydropower generated along the shared Columbia River.

At a Senate committee hearing Thursday, a range of witnesses in the power generation business claimed Canada is getting a lopsided deal under the terms of the 1960s era Columbia River Treaty.

A Bonneville Power Administration executive testified the U.S. substantially overpays BC Hydro to coordinate water flows from upstream reservoirs.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon bemoaned that those "excess payments" come out of the pockets of Northwest ratepayers. Idaho Republican Senator Jim Risch wondered what would make Canada agree to a better deal.

"I think this is going to be a really heavy lift to get the Canadians to try to do something about this," said Risch. "I mean, if I were sitting on the other side of the border, I'd look at this and say, 'Guys, here's the treaty. Where's my check?'"

None of the American witnesses could speak for Canada. But the provincial government of British Columbia recently released a position paper defending the value of the many downstream benefits it attributes to coordinated river management.

Under the terms of the Columbia River Treaty, either signatory can give notice to terminate starting next year. A more likely outcome is that the treaty will be reopened for modification.

"This is not going to be for the fainthearted," concluded Wyden.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.