Chief Negotiator Jill Smail's Remarks at the Second Columbia River Treaty Town Hall
Thanks to everyone for being here today. My name is Jill Smail. I lead the U.S. negotiating team, serving as the Chief U.S. Negotiator for the Columbia River Treaty at the Department of State.
There are representatives from five U.S. government agencies on the U.S. negotiating team:
- The Department of State;
- Bonneville Power Administration;
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division;
- The Department of Interior; and
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Often when you hear people talk about the Treaty you will hear them talk about the “U.S. Entity.” The U.S. Entity is responsible for the arrangements needed for U.S. implementation of the Treaty and it’s comprised of representatives from Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division.
I am joined here today by several members of the U.S. negotiating team. I’ll let them introduce themselves. Kieran, would you like to start?
- Kieran Connolly, Vice President of Generation and Asset Management for Bonneville Power Administration;
- David Ponganis, Director of Programs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division;
- Lorri Gray, Northwest Regional Director for the Bureau of Reclamation at the Department of Interior; and
- Michael Tehan, Assistant Regional Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Office’s Inter Columbia Basin Office.
I wanted to highlight that while I live and work in D.C., Lorri lives in Boise, Idaho, and Kieran, David, and Michael all live right here in Portland. Many others on the team also live and work in the region and have ongoing working relationships with the Tribes, state governments, local governments, and stakeholders.
Many of them also played key roles throughout the Regional Recommendation process and understand the need to be faithful to the consensus developed through that effort.
Since the Department of State is not based in the region, some of you may be wondering why the Department is involved in this Treaty. And this is an example of a question we’ve gotten through our ColumbiaRiverTreaty@state.gov email address, which I’ll mention in just a minute.
As the lead foreign affairs agency for the U.S. government, the Department of State has primary responsibility regarding negotiating and concluding international agreements and treaties on issues ranging from civil aviation to nuclear weapons to transboundary waters.
Before we get started, I wanted to share plans for upcoming Town Halls, our very simple agenda for tonight’s meeting, and to tell you how you can stay in touch with us.
As many of you know, we held our first Town Hall in April in Spokane, Washington. This is now our second Town Hall and we really value the opportunity to hear your thoughts directly on the Columbia River Treaty as we move forward. I am excited to be holding this Town Hall in Portland, which is such a lively and dynamic city. I know our conversation tonight will be equally lively and dynamic. There is a lot of passion and expertise in this room, and I appreciate all of you making time to be here.
We hope to do these Town Halls on a regular basis, rotating locations throughout the basin, so stay tuned for updates on when and where the next one will take place. We’re still finalizing plans, but we expect the next Town Hall will take place in early 2019.
For those of you who attended the Town Hall in April, this format will feel very similar. I’ll share with you where we are in the negotiating process and then open the floor to you all for your comments and questions.
If you would like to receive updates from us on the Columbia River Treaty, we recommend signing up on the sign-up sheet that is going around. And feel free to use that email address - ColumbiaRiverTreaty@state.gov - to ask us questions too. We may not be able to answer every question directly, but we do read each and every message and consider those views as we proceed with negotiations.
We are committed to providing you – as the U.S. Columbia River Basin community – with regular updates and information during the negotiations, at least as much as we can without jeopardizing the negotiations.
I also wanted to take a quick moment to let you all know that we do have folks joining us to listen in by phone. We know it isn’t always possible for everyone to join us in person, so we wanted to make sure we had a call-in option.
So what’s happened since the last Town Hall in April. Well, we’ve been quite busy. The United States and Canada have held two rounds of negotiations – in May in Washington, D.C. and in August in Nelson, British Columbia. We are preparing for the third round of negotiations next month here in Portland on October 17th and 18th.
We continue to meet regularly with the U.S. Tribes. In fact, we met with them earlier today right here in this room. We value the Tribes’ expertise and experience and are working with them to develop a mechanism for meaningful engagement throughout the negotiations.
We have also met with stakeholders, businesses, Congressional and State representatives, and others with expertise and experience to hear their views on the Treaty. And we have received questions and comments from the public through our ColumbiaRiverTreaty@state.gov email account.
In late June, my Canadian counterpart and I were able to see firsthand together the results of U.S. and Canadian cooperation through this flexible, yet durable agreement. Members of our two negotiating teams took a joint tour of some of the infrastructure in the Columbia Basin along the Columbia and Kootenai rivers.
In the United States, we visited Libby, The Dalles, and Grand Coulee dams. In Canada, we visited Keenleyside Dam at Arrow Lakes, the Kootenay Canal plants, and Revelstoke and Mica dams.
To be clear, our discussions with Canada are focused on water flowing across the border – namely:
- From the Canadian Treaty projects:
- Keenleyside (also known as Arrow);
- Duncan; and
- Mica Dams, and
- From Libby Dam in the United States.
- From the Canadian Treaty projects:
These projects together are collectively known as the “Treaty Projects.” You can see them highlighted on the map on the screens around the room.
I want to point out that while the Dalles and Grand Coulee dams were not constructed pursuant to the Treaty, like the other dams I just listed were, we visited them because we know they are important to the basin and are affected by Treaty operations.
Viewing this infrastructure together helped build a common understanding of the significant cooperation between the United States and Canada on these transboundary rivers as we move forward with our discussions.
This is a very exciting time to be working on the Treaty. People here in the Northwest have anticipated and planned for this for many years. At the Department of State, we are eager to move forward to help define how Americans and Canadians – including Tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada – will continue to mutually benefit from the Treaty.
But before we talk about what’s happening with the Treaty today, I wanted to take a look back at what led up to the Treaty. Some of this will be a review for the experts in the room, but I think it is important to set the stage.
We began working with Canada to cooperate on the development of the Columbia River in the 1940s. The 1948 Vanport Flood – which happened just a few miles from here – showed us the importance of accelerating cooperation with Canada. In that flood, 18,000 people in the community of Vanport in Northern Portland lost their homes and many lost their lives. We saw that we urgently needed to address flooding and prevent the loss of life and property as the region developed.
Through the Columbia River Treaty, we sought to develop our shared resources in a way that would contribute to the economic progress and general welfare of people in both countries. We agreed that we could get the greatest benefit by cooperating with Canada on flood risk management and hydroelectric power generation—which would make other benefits possible as well. We reached agreement in 1961, and by 1964, both sides had ratified the Treaty.
The Treaty, which is now 54 years old, is an extremely important agreement with one of our best allies and partners in the Hemisphere. We deeply value our unique and essential relationship with Canada. Around the world, this Treaty continues to serve as a model for transboundary water cooperation. Americans and Canadians alike should be proud of the invaluable cooperation that has contributed to the development of the regional economy on both sides of the border.
Today, 70 years after the Vanport flood, the Treaty’s flood risk management and hydropower operations have provided substantial benefits to millions of people in the United States and Canada. The Treaty has also facilitated additional benefits throughout the Columbia River system such as supporting, irrigation, municipal water use, industrial use, navigation, and recreation. Treaty-related agreements also allow for flow augmentation for ecosystem benefits.
For the United States, we think that the Treaty has been tremendously successful. At the same time, after 50-plus years of experience, we see areas where we think things can be improved. In addition, under the Treaty, we paid Canada to store and release water in its portion of the Columbia River Basin for flood control in the United States through 2024.
After 2024, the Treaty’s flood risk management provisions change to a less defined approach in terms of how we work together and compensate Canada for its role in managing water that flows across the border. By modernizing the Columbia River Treaty regime we seek continued, careful management of flood risk. We also want to ensure a reliable and economical power supply and improve ecosystem benefits.
I want to pause here for a moment to explain why we use the word “regime” in this context. When we say the Columbia River Treaty “regime,” we mean the 1961 Treaty itself; the 1964 Treaty Protocol; and associated implementing arrangements for the Treaty that have been developed over the past 50 plus years. In other words, it’s how we make the text of the Treaty a reality.
Over the years, Treaty implementation has been shaped by notes exchanged between our two governments, and through numerous operational and supplemental arrangements between the U.S. and Canadian implementing entities. This includes agreements for shaping flow to meet ecosystem objectives in both countries. So, when we talk about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty regime, this includes a focus on updating how we implement the Treaty.
As I mentioned a moment ago, as we work on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty regime, our objectives include continued, careful management of flood risk; ensuring a reliable and economical power supply; and improving ecosystem benefits. Now, let me unpack those for you a bit.
On flood risk management, the Northwest is a pillar of the U.S. economy and millions of people depend on flood risk management to protect their lives, property, and businesses. We paid for flood control storage in Canada through 2024, but after that, the Treaty’s flood control provisions change to a less defined approach in terms of operations and compensation. Both governments need to determine together how we will address post-2024 changes in the Treaty and manage flood risk.
On hydropower, we will seek an equitable distribution of power benefits between the two countries. Obviously, technology – and the Northwest energy market – have transformed dramatically since the 1960s. The Northwest is much more energy efficient than once predicted and it has experienced lower than expected regional load growth. As we have this conversation with Canada, we will take these and other changes into account in looking at the downstream power benefits achieved through coordination.
And on ecosystem, we will also seek opportunities to improve ecosystem cooperation for the benefit of fish and wildlife in both countries in a manner that appropriately balances this with other benefits. We believe both countries have a shared interest in a sustainable ecosystem.
We recognize there are a variety of uses and interests beyond flood risk management, hydropower, and ecosystem benefits. These include the importance – and economic contribution to the region – of maintaining navigation, recreation, irrigation, and municipal and industrial use of the river.
We also need to determine with Canada how we might build in flexibility to adapt to changes based on new information, technology, or changes in snow and rainfall patterns. It will be challenging to define how we plan for future unknowns, but it is clear we want to work through these issues together.
You may be wondering how the United States developed these objectives. The U.S. negotiating team set these objectives with input from the people most directly affected in the United States by the Treaty through the Regional Recommendation. For those who might not be familiar with the Regional Recommendation, it was developed in 2013 at the direction of the U.S. government. Its full name is “U.S. Entity’s Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024.”
As many of you well know, this took years of collaboration and consultations with federal agencies and the region’s states and Tribes, and extensive stakeholder engagement. I want to express our appreciation to those of you here today who supported the development of the Regional Recommendation. We are grateful to the Tribes, states, federal agencies, and stakeholders for contributing to the consensus it outlines. We know this required extensive engagement, hard work, and compromise.
The Regional Recommendation concluded it is in the best interest of the United States to modernize the Treaty regime, so our legacy of mutual benefits with Canada will continue into the future. The United States will seek to maximize shared benefits through coordination of operations. And we will seek to ensure that those benefits are shared equitably.
We had productive negotiating sessions with Canada in May in Washington, D.C. and in August in Nelson, British Columbia. As I mentioned earlier, our next negotiating session will be here in Portland October 17th and 18th. While I can’t get into the specifics of the meetings, I can say that our conversations have been productive and we are working together to modernize the Treaty regime in a way that benefits both countries.
Before I wrap up, I want to underscore we are looking ahead to how this Treaty can be mutually beneficial in the years ahead and faithful to the desires of the people who live here in the basin. I am confident that we will find common ground as we lay out our respective positions and turn them into a shared vision for the future of the basin.
We know there are many entities and individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest with significant interests in the outcome of the negotiations with Canada. We are working to balance the region’s myriad interests appropriately and come to a timely agreement. As negotiations move forward, your patience and support to allow us to focus on the work at hand will be critical.
The United States and Canada have a long, positive history of engagement on the Columbia River, and our goal is to make sure that we continue this global model of cooperation for many years to come.
Thank you again for being here today and I look forward to hearing from you. So that we can hear from as many people as possible, I’d ask that you please keep your remarks to three minutes. Let’s open up the floor for questions and comments.