I’m contemplating a series of posts about quantity vs. reliability of water supplies, with a focus on California’s Bay-Delta/California Aqueduct project. But that will have to wait a few more days. So I’ll take a very brief hiatus from contentious water supply issues to discuss amicable water supply management. In what may not surprise you, this story of reasonableness and amicable negotiations comes to us from Canada, our friends to the north.
The Columbia River Treaty, prepared in 1964, agreed to install lots of electricity generation on the Columbia River and its tributaries, as well as store spring runoff in 4 major dams, alleviating previous risks of destructive flooding. The treaty is novel to this day because it doesn’t have an expiration date, and either the US or Canada could cancel most of its provisions after September 2024, with a 10-year minimum notice. American regulators at the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration are reviewing the treaty, in consultation with 15 Northwest tribes, the four northwestern states, and other federal agencies. Notably, in 1964, few environmental regulations existed, so the treaty does not address endangered salmon runs or climate change. (You can also tell that it preceded our spiral into lawyer-dom: the entire treaty is a mere 20 pages.)
So the treaty is being re-evaluated, ahead of time, for the benefit of the environment, and perhaps the US government. How tame. Go figure.
In contrast, the far more stressed Colorado River system is managed more on-the-fly, relying upon a document written in 1922 based upon flow data that is now known to be greater than the long-term average — in essence, 7 American states overallocated the entire river flow, such that no flow was intended to reach Mexico. Subsequent negotiation has carved out an allotment for Mexico (a pittance), but the basic problem remains: too many people in the southwest rely upon the Colorado River to survive an extreme drought. Maybe we should be trying to renegotiate that treaty, too…