Modernizing the Canada–U.S. Columbia River Treaty to consider climate change

The 1964 Canada–U.S. Columbia River Treaty (CRT) outlines rules for cooperative uses and responsibilities over hydropower production and flood management. The agreement was once an exemplar of international water cooperation due to its observance of the principle of “equitable use” via a 50/50 split of hydropower benefits. Additional shared values in the basin include recreation, navigation, agricultural irrigation and Indigenous cultural heritage. The agreement is now outdated because it makes no explicit mention of these other values, assumes stationarity and lacks mechanisms for interested parties to be included in decision-making. Climate change projections show an increasing proportional contribution of Columbia River flows to the Canadian part of the basin, which will likely increase U.S. demand for Canadian water management. With the aim of better reflecting modern values, renegotiations of the CRT are currently underway. As part of the negotiations, ecosystem functions are being considered, modelled climate change projections are playing a role, and, in an unprecedented move for Canadian international negotiations, Indigenous communities have been included as observers at the negotiating table.

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