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192 Rethinking the Columbia River Treaty John Shurts Earlier chapters in this volume have described the Columbia River Basin, the treaty, various perspectives of stakeholders, and some implications of science.This chapter, in contrast, is a beginning, a work in progress intended simply to organize information, frame issues, and speculate on these matters. It explores three ways of looking at the treaty and its benefits, costs, and underlying assumptions: First, at the time of adoption; second, as it currently operates; and third, at a hypothetical termination. The purpose of this exercise is to clarify what the people of the two nations want out of this river, or think they want, including biological qualities but also economic and other qualities,and whether they can have those qualities and at what cost—for what we are dealing with here is a biological river that is also a key component in a western North American electrical energy system. Why and the Negotiations The treaty is not a water allocation agreement.What prompted it instead was the promise of storage in the upstream nation to optimize certain uses of the river in the downstream nation. It was all about changing the natural hydrograph. High river flows ran at the wrong time of year to be truly useful, from the frame of reference of the dominant culture in the developing nation south of the border in the mid-twentieth century. The Columbia is one of the great rivers of NorthAmerica.It is the fourth largest river in North America, behind only the Mississippi, St. Lawrence and Mackenzie rivers. Most of the water storage for the Columbia is natural—snowpack in the headwaters mountains. River flows are affected most by snow runoff, with a late spring/early summer big-peak hydrograph.The peak flows are obvious: Average unregulated fall–winter (September–February) flows measured atThe Dalles in the lower Columbia are around 100,000 cubic feet per second (or 94 kcfs),while May– June unregulated flows at the same point average more than 440 kcfs.The highest peak flood flow at The Dalles of 1.24 million cfs occurred on June 6, 1894, and about half of that flow came from Canada.The average annual total runoff of the Columbia is nearly 200 million acre feet at the river mouth, and 134 million acre feet measured at The Dalles, but the year-to-year variation is large—unregulated peak flows have run as high as 1,240 kcfs (1894) and as low as 36 kcfs (1937),a 1:34 ratio (compared to the St. Lawrence’s ratio of 1:2 or the Mississippi’s ratio of 1:25). (See the map in figure 1 in the Introduction to Parts I, II, and III). Rethinking the Columbia River Treaty 193 People living in the United States portion of the basin saw two particular problems with the way the river ran. First, peak spring and early summer flows in higher runoff years brought the river out of its banks at various points, presenting an obvious obstacle to efficient development of cities and farm lands. This was especially troublesome in the more developed areas of the lower river.The problem came to a particular head with the huge May 31,1948,flood flow of over 1 million cfs that damaged homes,farms,and levees from British Columbia to Astoria,caused greater than $100 million in damage in 1940s dollars, and in particular destroyed Vanport, Oregon, a city of 35,000 on the river next to Portland, killing more than fifty people. The USGS estimated that the 1948 flood flow was over 1 million cfs, and the river crested 25 feet above normal at Vancouver, directly across from Vanport. Flows at Grand Coulee Dam, 600 miles inland, peaked at 633 kcfs that spring, more than three times the average at that location at that time of the year. The second problem concerned power generation. Hydroelectric dams on the part of the river in the United States began powering the developing economy of the region in the 1930s and ‘40s, with plans (that came to fruition) to add far more hydropower generation after the Second World War. Hydroelectric power became the dominant form of electricity generation in the Pacific Northwest as nowhere else in North America. But the relatively cool Northwest developed a winter peak in electricity use,while the biggest slug of the water in the Columbia ran in the late spring/early summer, fueled by the melting snowpack—nearly...

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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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