Columbia River Treaty Non-Governmental Organizations Letter

Sept. 14, 2022

Signed in 1961, the Columbia River Treaty calls for two entities to be designated to implement the Treaty — a U.S. Entity and a Canadian Entity. The U.S. Entity, designated by the President, consists of the Administrator (Chairman) of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwestern Division Engineer (member) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Canadian Entity, appointed by the Canadian Federal Cabinet, is the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (B.C. Hydro). The year 2024 is a significant date for the Treaty, as the current flood risk management provisions change to a less-defined approach.

Secretary Antony Blinken, U.S. Department of State
Jill Smail, Chief Negotiator for the Columbia River Treaty
John Hairston, Administrator and CEO, Bonneville Power Administration
Col. Geoff Van Epps, Northwestern Division Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

American Rivers ● Association of Northwest Steelheaders ● Audubon Society of Portland ● Center for Biological Diversity ● Center for Environmental Law and Policy ● Columbia Riverkeeper ● Earth Ministry / Washington Interfaith Power and Light ● Endangered Species Coalition ● Engineers for a Sustainable Future ● Faith Action Network ● Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs ● Great Old Broads for Wilderness ● Idaho Conservation League ● Idaho Rivers United ● Idaho Wildlife Federation ● Institute for Fisheries Resources ● National Wildlife Federation ● Northwest Guides and Anglers Association ● Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association ● Northwest Energy Coalition ● Oregon Coast Alliance ● Oregon League of Conservation Voters ● Oregon Wild ● Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations ● Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition ● Sierra Club ● Spokane Riverkeeper ● Washington Wildlife Federation ● WaterWatch of Oregon ● Whale Scout ● Wild Orca ● Wild Steelhead Coalition

Re: Columbia River Treaty and Flood Operations

Dear Secretary Blinken, Chief Negotiator Smail, Administrator Hairston, and Commander Helton,

We write on behalf of millions of Northwest people, united for the health of the Columbia River. We represent conservation, clean energy, faith, fishing, and civic groups, and water-based businesses, in the Northwest states. Thank you for considering our requests.

This summer’s intense heat across our region, following directly on the heels of last summer’s record breaking heat dome, is one more in an accelerating series of events demonstrating why the Columbia River Treaty is in need of a major overhaul to serve Northwest people today and into the future. Chronic hot water is killing salmon and degrading Columbia and Snake River health today, with worse coming. A modern treaty must give Northwest people greater standing and more tools to withstand this rising damage.

For these reasons we ask you, the U.S. Negotiating Team, and the U.S. Entity, to once again partner with Canada to add Ecosystem Function the health of the river as a third, co-equal treaty purpose. And we urge the Administration to include Columbia Basin tribes in Treaty governance, matching Canada’s recognition of Indigenous Nations’ future role in Treaty implementation. This will begin to redress the injustice the treaty has imposed on the tribes for six decades, and help our region take full advantage of tribal expertise, traditional knowledge, science, and resources to assure river health.

Our final request concerns flood risk operations. As you know, we currently benefit from a collaborative flood risk management plan that is dependent upon assured Canadian storage to minimize flood risk in the U.S. This critical collaboration ends on Sept. 16, 2024, if negotiations fail to extend the collaborative approach by that day. We see signs now that Congress is preparing for unspecified “called upon” operation of reservoirs after that date. Such operations have a high risk of further degrading already inadequate flows and cooling operations from critical reservoirs for salmon, other fish, and overall river health. This risk compounds if “called upon” operations take place under the current treaty, in which salmon and river health have been, at best, secondary and at worst ignored for the last 58 years.

The U.S. projects potentially most affected Grand Coulee, Libby, Hungry Horse, Dworshak, Brownlee, Albeni Falls, Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ (formerly Kerr), and John Day today carry significant fish, wildlife, recreation, cultural and community obligations that “called upon” operations will put at risk. It is also worth emphasizing that other river uses, including power generation and agriculture, are also at risk of disruption in a “called upon” scenario. This view is shared by the treaty’s binational Permanent Engineering Board, which warns in its latest report the general lack of planning leaves us with “no guidance on the operation of the Canadian storage system with significant consequences in both Canada and the U.S. for power generation, flood risk management and social and environmental objectives.”

Yet, with just two years remaining before the Northwest tumbles into the uncertainties and dangers of “called upon” operations (and only one year until detailed planning for this scenario must begin), no federal effort is underway to engage Northwest people and communities as participants in deciding what “called upon” will mean. No information on options, trade-offs and risks is being shared with those who will bear the consequences. It’s as if looming changes in Columbia Basin reservoir operations are as confidential to affected Northwest people as are the Treaty negotiations themselves.

The best outcome for flood operations is prompt agreement by the U.S. and Canada on a new Columbia River Treaty which includes Ecosystem Function as a treaty purpose and expands treaty governance to reflect that. The health of the river would then have a seat at the treaty table when new coordinated flood risk management operations are developed, and U.S. river users would not be abruptly plunged into the uncertainties of a “called upon” regime.

But best outcome or worst, it is past time to make affected Northwest people and communities partners in federal planning, and decisions, for Columbia-Snake river system management post-Sept. 2024. We request that the U.S. Negotiating Team and/or U.S. Entity initiate formal contact about looming changes and options with the full range of river users, communities, and sovereigns. We believe, as Canada is demonstrating, that citizens can be actively engaged while the confidentiality of negotiations is honored.

We will seek a meeting with you to discuss these concerns and seek information. Thank you for considering our views. We wish you success in securing a modern Columbia River Treaty with Canada that adds Ecosystem Function the health of the river to the treaty’s mission and governance. Thank you.


Bob Rees
Executive Director
Northwest Guides and Anglers Association

Bob Sallinger
Conservation Director
Audubon Society of Portland

Brian Brooks
Executive Director
Idaho Wildlife Federation

Cameron La Follette
Executive Director
Oregon Coast Alliance

Dan Ritzman
Director, Lands, Water, and Wildlife Campaign
Sierra Club

Deborah A. Giles, PhD
Science and Research Director
Wild Orca

Doug Moore
Executive Director
Oregon League of Conservation Voters

Elise DeGooyer
Executive Director
Faith Action Network

Erin Farris-Olsen
Regional Executive Director, Northern Rockies, Prairies, and Pacific
National Wildlife Federation

Genia Moncada
Leadership Team, Polly Dyer Seattle Broads Chapter
Great Old Broads for Wilderness

George Milne
FWOC President
Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs

Glen Spain
Northwest Regional Director
Institute for Fisheries Resources

Glen Spain
Northwest Regional Director
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

Jason Wedemeyer
Executive Director
Association of Northwest Steelheaders

Jerry White, Jr.
Executive Director
Spokane Riverkeeper

John DeVoe
Executive Director
WaterWatch of Oregon

John McGlenn
Washington Wildlife Federation

Joseph Bogaard
Executive Director
Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition

Kyle Smith
Regional Director, Columbia/Snake River Program
American Rivers

Lauren Goldberg
Executive Director
Columbia Riverkeeper

Leda Huta
Executive Director
Endangered Species Coalition

Liz Hamilton
Executive Director
Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association

Mike Unger
Engineers for a Sustainable Future

Mitch Cutter
Salmon and Steelhead Associate
Idaho Conservation League

Nancy Hirsh
Executive Director
NW Energy Coalition

Nic Nelson
Executive Director
Idaho Rivers United

Quinn (Quynh Dien) Read
Oregon Policy Director
Center for Biological Diversity

Rev. AC Churchill
Executive Director
Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light

Rich Simms
Founding Member
Wild Steelhead Coalition

Steve Pedery
Conservation Director
Oregon Wild

Trish Rolfe
Executive Director
Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Whitney Neugebauer
Whale Scout

Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington
Senator Patty Murray, Washington
Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon
Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon
Senator James Risch, Idaho
Senator Mike Crapo, Idaho
Senator Jon Tester, Montana
Senator Steve Daines, Montana
Jay Inslee, Governor, State of Washington
Kate Brown, Governor, State of Oregon
Brad Little, Governor, State of Idaho
Greg Gianforte, Governor, State of Montana
David Barnett, Chair, Cowlitz Tribe of Indians
Delano Saluskin, Chair, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation
Kat Brigham, Chair, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Jonathan Smith, Chair, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon
Samuel N. Penney, Chair, Nez Perce Tribe
Chief Allan, Chair, Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians
Jarred Michael Erickson, Chair, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Glen D. Nenema, Chair, Kalispel Tribe of Indians
Gary Aitken Jr., Chair, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
Carol Evans, Chair, Spokane Tribe of Indians
Tom McDonald, Chair, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation
Brian Thomas, Chair, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation
Devon Boyer, Chair, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation
Maxine Redstar, Chair, Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe
Diane Teeman, Chair, Burns Paiute Tribe