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Canada, U.S. Disagree Over Value of Columbia River Treaty Benefits

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library
File photo of the Columbia River's Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, Washington. The dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

British Columbia has staked out a negotiating position on a cross-border water treaty that puts it at odds with public utilities and ratepayers in the U.S. Northwest.

At issue is whether and how to renew the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty. Northwestern U.S. utilities argue we're paying Canada too much to manage water flows from upstream reservoirs. But the negotiating principles finalized by British Columbia this week imply the U.S. actually undervalues the benefits it receives.

"The British Columbia position and the regional recommendation from the U.S. side are seeing those things a little differently and analyzed those differently," says Scott Corwin, who directs the Public Power Council, a regional industry association based in Portland. "What we'd like to see is the United States expeditiously move into that discussion and try to work through that."

By treaty, British Columbia receives a portion of the electricity generated from American dams on the shared Columbia River. That's worth several hundred million dollars, which might otherwise accrue to Northwest ratepayers.

Under the terms of the Columbia River Treaty, either party can give notice to terminate beginning later this year. But an extended negotiation between Washington and Ottawa seems more likely at this stage.

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.