High Country News: Renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty, six decades later
How will bolstered support for tribal sovereignty and the environment change the U.S.-Canada agreement?
By Adam M. Sowards for High Country News
On Memorial Day 1948, as Oregonians traveled home from holidays on the coast and the Cascade Mountains, the Columbia River breached a dike at Vanport, an industrial suburb north of Portland. Swollen by abnormally deep snowfall, rapid melting and region-wide rainstorms, the river submerged the town, displacing some 18,000 residents (one-third of them African American), killing at least 51 and damaging property valued at more than $100 million.
In addition to those immediate, devastating effects, the Vanport Flood also catalyzed changes in international relations in the Columbia River Basin — an area roughly the size of France — hastening plans to build three flood-control dams in Canada and authorizing another in the United States. Those projects were codified in the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, in 1961.
Now, with parts of the treaty due to expire in five years, the two countries are renegotiating it. But the political landscape has vastly changed since 1961. The original treaty was implemented before the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act and a host of legal shifts that bolstered Indigenous rights in both countries, including 1974’s Boldt Decision, which affirmed Pacific Northwest tribal nations’ right to co-manage salmon. These hallmarks of change emphasize the need to include environmental protection and equity in an updated treaty.
Read the rest of the article by High Country News here: https://www.hcn.org/articles/reckoning-with-history-renegotiating-the-columbia-river-treaty-six-decades-later