Opinion editorial by Bruce Chandler: Future generations deserve our thoughtful consideration of Columbia River Treaty

By Rep. Bruce Chandler

Special to the Seattle Times


Changes to the Columbia River Treaty may not seem as though they impact your daily life, but every time you turn on your faucet, pay your power bill, or seek local produce at the grocery store, the Treaty is affecting your life. Our friends to the south in the Vancouver/Portland area understand the importance of the Treaty in flood prevention after a flood in 1948 destroyed the town of Vanport, Oregon and in 1996 when Portland was threatened with its own flood.

Forty years ago, previous generations were making agreements between the United States and Canada with two primary goals in managing the mighty Columbia River: coordinate flood risk management and optimize hydropower production. This Treaty has served us well, helping Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Canada have a balanced approach to managing our shared water source.

The Treaty can be re-negotiated starting in 2024, but the countries must give 10 years notice of any potential changes, so discussions begin now. If Canada and the U.S. cannot reach an agreement on terms within the original treaty, it will be renegotiated and amended through the federal government.

The U.S. Entity is responsible for representing our country's interests in the treaty, and is made up of the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal entity which manages Columbia River hydropower projects, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which builds and maintains our country's infrastructure.

The U.S. Entity released its draft recommendation for changes to the treaty. The recommended change with the greatest impact on our households, our power bills, and Washington's critical agriculture industry is to add “ecosystem-based function” as another goal of the Treaty. The working draft states: “…it is important to achieve a modernized framework for the Treaty that balances power production, flood risk management, and ecosystem-based function as the primary purposes.”

Adding this goal to the Treaty not only puts Washington at great risk for endless legal battles, the major re-negotiation that this would require would open up the entire Treaty for scrutiny, and subject changes to Congress, made up of varying interests across the country. I don't need to emphasize the danger of leaving a decision up to Washington, D.C., when the greatest impact on changes will be felt in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Canada.

The working draft by the U.S. Entity also recognizes that significant ecosystem restoration efforts are already in place in the Columbia Basin. In fact, in the last 35 years, BPA ratepayers have paid more than $13 billion on fish and wildlife recovery actions. Who are BPA ratepayers? Everyone who pays for power in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of other neighboring states sends their bills to companies that are under the jurisdiction of the federal agency BPA. In 2012 alone, these ratepayers spent $816 million on fish and wildlife recovery efforts in the form of programs, lost revenue and physical improvements for ecosystems. The average ratepayer is spending 25-30 percent of their power bill on fish and wildlife efforts.

This is not to say these are not worthy projects: I believe it is our responsibility to effectively manage land and water that we share with wildlife. However, if these efforts are already being undertaken, and in light of the fact that making such a major change would create great risk, adding this goal to the Treaty is unnecessary.

Congressman Doc Hastings, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee in Congress, said “this 'working draft' needs substantial 're-working.'” I agree. According to the Public Power Council, which represents consumer-owned utility customers of the BPA, “For the foreseeable future, salmon and steelhead mitigation in the Northwest will continue to be one of the largest wildlife recovery efforts in history.”

Let's continue our efforts in fish and wildlife recovery and ecosystem protection, make minor amendments to the Treaty with our regional interests and entities, and ensure future generations have adequate water supply and flood protection.

Rep. Bruce Chandler serves as the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He owns and operates a commercial fruit orchard in Granger.

To find out more about the Columbia River Treaty, visit www.crt2014-2024review.gov.


Washington State House Republican Communications