Columbia River

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Columbia River Treaty

A view of the Columbia River from atop the Columbia River Gorge.

Overlooking the Columbia River.

The Columbia River Treaty is an international agreement between the United States and Canada, signed in 1961 that establishes coordination obligations between the countries for flood risk management, hydroelectric energy production and has yielded environmental benefits in the Columbia River Basin.

The Treaty calls for two designated “entities,” a U.S. Entity (created by a Presidential Executive Order) and a Canadian Entity to help implement it with the assistance of a Permanent Engineering Board (PEB). The U.S. Entity comprises the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Division Engineer of the Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Canadian Entity, appointed by the Canadian Federal Cabinet, the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (B.C. Hydro).

Learn more about the organization and history of the Treaty.

Treaty Modernization

The United States and Canada began negotiations in May 2018 with the objective of developing a modernized Columbia River Treaty regime that serves the people of the Columbia River Basin on both sides of the border, including members of several Tribal and Indigenous Nations.

The U.S. Department of State is leading the U.S. team in negotiations with Canada. The U.S. Government’s key objectives include continued, careful management of flood risk; ensuring a reliable and economical power supply; and improving the ecosystem in a modernized Treaty regime.

Discussions with Canada have 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. These projects together are collectively known as the “Treaty Projects.”

The Treaty provisions regarding Canada’s obligations to operate its reservoirs for U.S. flood risk management change on September 16, 2024. The United States secured an obligation from Canada to provide a degree of flood risk management when the Treaty was originally signed, that obligation continues so long as Canada has dams in the basin that contribute to flood risk reduction in the United States. The first 60 years of that obligation were handled on a pre-planned and pre-paid basis. In 2024, the 60 years of pre-planned flood storage in the Canadian Treaty dams sunsets and is replaced with terms that allow the United States and Canada to coordinate FRM operations and payment for FRM differently, by using what is known as "Called Upon" or “real-time” operations. This provision means that the United States can call upon Canada for assistance when necessary to meet U.S. flood risk management needs. The United States would need to continue to operate its reservoirs to reduce flood peaks in periods when it calls on Canadian reservoir storage, as it does today. The Treaty has a corresponding change on the payment side, which would require the United States to compensate Canada based on the economic loss shown to arise directly from any foregone use of the relevant reservoir space during the flood period.

The U.S. Government is proactively negotiating a modernized agreement that would continue to benefit both countries and reduce the potential frequency or magnitude of reliance on Canadian storage through a “Called upon” or real-time basis.

Real-Time Flood Risk Management Operations

An illustrated map of the Columbia River Basin showing tributaries and circles denoting dams based on reservoir space.

Since 2018, the U.S. Government has been proactively negotiating with Canada to modernize the Columbia River Treaty regime. Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation must continue operating and maintaining federal projects to meet all Congressionally authorized responsibilities. The U.S. Government is prepared to, and if needed, will implement real-time flood risk management (FRM) operations. We will also work with the stakeholders and Tribes who rely on the Columbia River System (CRS) on any potential changes in flows across the border from Canada. With or without a modernized agreement, the United States still has a right to access Canadian storage after September 2024. However, unlike the FRM terms in the Treaty for the first 60 years, the post September 2024 FRM terms do not guarantee the United States access to pre-planned FRM storage in Canada. This may result in the United States calling on Canada to manage its flooding when conditions warrant.  The United States will adapt to any increased uncertainty in flows across the border, which may at times impact stakeholders, accustomed to the certainty in the benefits provided by the system.

(Right) The relative capacity of major Columbia Basin storage dams. A significant proportion of storage is in Canada.

Federal planners (USACE and Reclamation) held four virtual public information sessions in September and October to provide information to the public. These sessions were only informational in nature and presenters did not take questions.

Virtual meeting information dates were:

       Wednesday, Sept. 27: 12-1 p.m. PST and 5-6 p.m. PST

       Tuesday, Oct. 10: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. PST and 5-6 p.m. PST

Wednesday, September 28 info session: 

What is Flood Risk?

Flood risk is a combination of the likelihood of a natural or man-made flood hazard happening and the consequences or impact if it occurred. For more information on flood risk please see our flood risk management page.

Learn more about Real-Time Flood Risk Management.