Seattle City Light Supports Renegotiation of Columbia River Treaty

Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River — Photo by US Bureau of Reclamation

Seattle City Light is pleased by an announcement that the United States and Canada will begin negotiations in 2018 to modernize the landmark Columbia River Treaty, which has supported hydropower operations, flood control, irrigation, municipal water use, navigation and recreation on the international river since 1964.

“We’re thankful to the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation for their support in getting Columbia River Treaty negotiations started with Canada, American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations,” City Light’s Interim Power Supply Officer Robert Cromwell said. “It’s time to modernize the operations of the Columbia River for power, flood control and address important ecosystem functions.”

Under the existing treaty, river users in the United States, including hydroelectric dam operators such as the Bonneville Power Administration, pay Canada for power production and flood control support provided by their reservoirs. The U.S. electric utilities and agencies covered by the treaty believe they are paying too much for that power production and flood control support.

City Light supports the regional recommendation that was submitted to the U.S. State Department in 2013. It calls for:

  • Better address the region’s interest in a reliable and economically sustainable hydropower system and reflect a more reasonable assessment of the value of coordinated power operations with Canada;
  • Continue to provide a similar level of flood risk management to protect public safety and the region’s economy;
  • Include ecosystem-based function as one of the primary purposes of the treaty; and
  • Create flexibility within the Treaty to respond to climate change, changing water supply needs and other potential future changes in system operations while continuing to meet authorized purposes such as navigation and irrigation.

Such changes could reduce Seattle City Light’s costs for the electricity it buys from BPA by $9 million to $11 million per year.

More details about the regional recommendation are available here.