Another voice: Speak up at forum Sept. 6 on Columbia River Treaty

For the past three years, I have traveled the length of the Columbia to document the riverscapes and the tribes and First Nations feelings about the river and hopes for a new treaty that will honor their requests to restore the health of the river and salmon runs back to Canada. Many people have asked how they can get involved.

Your voice is needed for the Columbia River on Sept. 6.

The Columbia River Treaty was originally ratified in 1964 to reduce the risk of floods in downstream cities like Portland and to develop additional hydropower capacity. The treaty resulted in building four major dams, three in British Columbia and one in Montana. Notably, consideration of the health of the Columbia River and its fish and wildlife populations were not included in the original treaty. Not only did the construction of the dams result in the displacement of people, economies and cultures as a result of permanently flooded lands, it had a profound effect on salmon and other fish and wildlife species — and the communities that rely on them — on both sides of the border.

The United States and Canada are currently renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty. And a broad coalition of conservation, tribes, sports, and fishing organizations, is asking the U.S. State Department for important changes.

The coalition’s central push is to make ecosystem-based function a co-equal purpose of the treaty alongside flood control and hydropower. This is a wonky way to describe taking actions to achieve a healthier river and healthier fish and wildlife populations. It would mean operational changes that provide additional water during low and moderate flow years in the spring and summer to increase survival of juvenile salmon migrating downstream to the Pacific Ocean. It also includes fish passage and reintroduction of salmon above Grand Coulee Dam and into Canada.

Please speak up for the Columbia River at the U.S. State Department’s Sept. 6 town hall in Portland

This town hall follows a mid-August round of treaty negotiations in British Columbia, and comes in advance of another mid-October round of negotiations in Portland.

The meeting will be held at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Rates Hearing Room, 1201 Lloyd Blvd., Suite 200, Portland from 5:30 p.m. to approximately 7 p.m

Some suggested comments to make:

  1. Ecosystem-based Function must be included as a new primary purpose of a new Columbia River Treaty, co-equal with power production and flood management.
  2. The river needs a voice during treaty negotiations. The U.S. should add a representative for ecosystem function to the treaty negotiating team. The current team already includes BPA (hydropower) and the Army Corps of Engineers (flood risk management).
  3. The U.S. and Canada have excluded tribes and First Nations from the negotiating teams. This must be corrected. Under the laws of both countries it is clear this treaty impacts the shared resources held by tribes in the U.S., as well as those resources in Canada to which rights and title have not been extinguished.
  4. Citizen input is needed. The U.S. should create an advisory committee to the U.S. Entity that allows stakeholders to understand and share information about the operation of the treaty dams, and their impacts on communities and natural resources.
  5. Make informed decisions using a shared, transparent information base. Create a common analytic base between both nations and all those affected by re-establishing the collaborative modeling workgroup.
  6. We need best options for flood risk management. Residents in the greater Portland and Vancouver metropolitan area want to understand the costs, benefits, and tradeoffs from today’s flood management strategies — as well as possible alternatives. In order to prepare, the U.S. Army Corps should conduct a basin-wide review of flood risk management.

Peter Marbach is a photographer, writer, and activist for environmental and social justice issues. A photo essay book on the Columbia River Treaty is forthcoming in Spring 2019.

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