Montana Public Radio

Montana Legislature Weighs-In On Columbia River Treaty Negotiations

Mar 11, 2019

As negotiators from the United States and Canada consider tweaks to a longstanding treaty about the Columbia River system, Montana legislators are pushing for local water security and compensation.

The Columbia River Treaty outlines shared management of flood risk and hydropower generation along a river system that crisscrosses the international border. The United States, Canada and tribal nations are in the process of modernizing that agreement.

Senator Mike Cuffe, a Republican from Eureka, says Montana didn’t get a fair shake in the original contract from 1964.

Sen. Mike Cuffe (R) - Eureka
Credit Montana Legislature

"We flooded our valley to provide a lot of good things downstream. Canada did also. They flooded three valleys. However, Canada was compensated with half the value of the electricity generated."

Cuffe is sponsoring a joint resolution that says Montana should receive payment for losses associated with the construction of Libby Dam, and that Canada should lose its ability to divert water from the Kootenai River before it reaches Montana.

The Montana Senate passed Cuffe’s Resolution on the Columbia River Treaty in February 50 to 0. On Monday the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously referred it for a full House vote.

Cuffe hopes the resolution will be enacted in time for a town hall meeting about the treaty next week in Kalispell, where lead negotiators will talk about the United States’ goals to secure future flood risk management, a reliable and economic power supply and ecosystem improvements.

Negotiators are working against a 2024 deadline. After 2024, Canada’s role of storing and releasing water for flood control in the United States becomes less defined.

U.S. Columbia River Treaty Negotiator Jill Smail will lead the town hall Wednesday, March 20, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell.