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14 The Columbia Exchange: A Canadian Perspective on the Negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, 1944–1964 Jeremy Mouat Several years ago a scientist claimed that “[t]he Columbia River Treaty, with its focus on an ‘engineered river’ for flood control and winter hydropower, marks a clear transition in the Columbia’s history from a natural river to a managed water resources system” (Hamlet 2003, 271).Arguably the treaty was simply the last stage in a much longer process that had the same goal. But the scientist was right: the point of the treaty was to complete the process of turning the river into an organic machine, to use RichardWhite’s memorable phrase.The treaty was made necessary by the fact that the river’s flow took it from Canadian territory into American. The question of who had the authority to engineer the river’s flow was key to the course of the treaty negotiations. It is worth stressing that the treaty created not just a “managed water resources system,” but one that was continental, or at least one that no longer existed in two distinct national jurisdictions. Although those in favor of the treaty frequently used the phrase “cooperative development,”1 the treaty plainly reflected longstanding American plans for the Columbia River. Through the mid-twentieth century, a series of dams was constructed on the main stem of the Columbia River within the United States to generate hydroelectric power and to assist in flood control and irrigation.The river was being harnessed,as various advocates had insisted it ought to be.As the scale of these projects increased and as scrutiny of the potential of the river grew more intense, the “inefficiency” of the natural system became more apparent to the planners and the boosters (McKinley 1952; Pitzer 1994; Ficken and Woods 1995;White 1995; Lang 1999). The source of this “inefficiency” was the natural environment, whose regulation of the flow of the Columbia River ran counter to efficient power production.The river’s flow peaked sharply during the late spring and early summer, as warmer temperatures melted the snow that had fallen during the winter. Much of this seasonal flow came from that section of the Columbia north of the 49th parallel, within Canada.The uneven flow of the river meant that the generation of power was not constant; surplus water spilled over the floodways during the periods of heavy flow, and periods of low flow could prevent turbines from generating power at full load. The purpose of the treaty was to deal with this problem: it dictated the construction of storage dams in Canada, dams that would conserve some of the river’s peak flow, holding it back so that it could be used to generate power The Columbia Exchange:A Canadian Perspective on the Negotiation 15 through the winter, when the flow tended to be much reduced.2 The treaty also provided money to Canada in exchange for the construction of these dams.3 The negotiations that culminated in the treaty lasted twenty years, from 1944 to 1964, and have attracted a good deal of scholarly attention.This chapter re-examines these negotiations from a Canadian perspective, to argue that their course and outcome can only be understood if we situate them in a broad context. Earlier studies have tended to assume that it is possible to account for the course of the negotiations by looking closely only at the personalities and the politics of those directly involved. In addition, most accounts tend to assume (from various perspectives) that the treaty was unavoidable and that alternative arrangements were either implausible or unattainable. In fact, the treaty negotiations were never a foregone conclusion; there was nothing inevitable about the outcome (Krutilla 1967; Swainson 1979). * * * The background for the treaty lay in the early discussions and study in the United States for the development of the Columbia River Basin.This process was underway by the 1920s and culminated in the “308 report” that appeared in 1934, Columbia River and Minor Tributaries (House Document 103, 1934).4 In its nearly two thousand pages, the two-volume study outlined, as its subtitle indicated, “A General Plan for the Improvement of the Columbia River and Minor Tributaries for the Purposes of Navigation and Efficient Development of Its Water Power, the Control of Floods, and the Needs of Irrigation.” This was followed shortly after by another investigation commissioned by the National Resources Committee and undertaken by the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780870716928
Related ISBN
9780870716911
MARC Record
OCLC
830023889
Pages
464
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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