British Columbia wants changes in Columbia River pact with U.S.

by Reuters
Thursday, 13 March 2014 22:07 GMT

(Adds comments from British Columbia energy and mines minister)

By Nicole Mordant

VANCOUVER, March 13 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of British Columbia said on Thursday it wants to keep a 50-year-old Canada-U.S. pact on Columbia River flood control and power generation in place, but it urged the federal government to push for what it called improvements.

The announcement of the Pacific Coast province's stance on renewing the Columbia River Treaty, which has been in effect since 1964, came three months after the agencies leading a U.S. review of the pact recommended that Washington continue the agreement, but that it reduce the payments it makes to Canada under the treaty.

The Columbia River, one of North America's largest rivers by volume, has its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies and flows 2,000 km (1,250 miles) through British Columbia, Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

Under the treaty, four dams were built in the Pacific Northwest: three in southeastern British Columbia and one in Montana. The United States paid for the building of the dams, which are used for hydroelectric power production.

Although the treaty has no specified end date, either side can give notice of termination as early as mid-September this year. The actual termination would, however, only come into effect 10 years later.

British Columbia's Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Canada should receive more than the C$100 million ($90.4 million) to C$300 million it gets annually from the United States for the benefits its southern neighbor enjoys under the treaty.

The pact entitles Canada to half of the hydroelectric generation capability at U.S. power plants on the Columbia River that results directly from the British Columbia-based dams. Canada for the most part monetizes the power by selling it back to U.S. utilities.

Bennett said the United States was overly focused on power output. "Let us not just talk about power benefits. Let's talk about all the benefits," he said in an interview.

Other benefits that the United States enjoys by virtue of the pact, Bennett said, include farmland irrigation, being able to use waterways for shipping and tourism, something he said could not be developed if there were fears of flooding.

Additional benefits for Canada need not only be in the form of money but could come in the form of, for example, "a little more influence" over the Libby Dam, he said, referring to the Montana-based dam.

In exchange for building and operating the dams mandated by the treaty in Canada, Ottawa also received an upfront payment of about C$64 million from the United States.

In their recommendation in December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which are leading the treaty review in the United States, said the financial formula developed in the 1960s will result in Canada's share of U.S. power generation being "significantly greater than anticipated" 10 years from now.

A spokesperson for the Army Corps or the BPA could not immediately be reached for comment.

($1=$1.11 Canadian)

(Editing by Peter Galloway and Cynthia Osterman)

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