Transboundary Support for Ecosystem Function in the Columbia Basin

Study on the role of institutional cooperation between the US and Canada under the Columbia River Treaty in support of flow regimes that sustain ecosystem health.

The Columbia River Treaty can be described a story of successful collaboration between the nations for its intended purposes. The mighty and highly variable flows of the Columbia are now dam-controlled, which mitigates regional flood risks, and the Columbia has become a vital source of regional hydroelectric power generation. Yet successful management of the Columbia River for flood control and hydroelectric power generation has been achieved at the expense of the River’s ecosystems. The two nations, observers, residents, and academics have been contemplating how a revised Treaty can best address modern concerns about ecosystem function now and in a future increasingly subject to the impacts of climate change.

Using multi-criteria analysis, this study assess the status quo and three institutional alternatives against criteria derived from the identified objectives. The alternatives are 1) adding ecosystem function as a third purpose to the Columbia River Treaty, 2) instituting transboundary water use planning, and 3) establishing a transboundary river basin organization.

The final recommendations advocate for a multi-pronged policy approach and include the adoption of the identified objectives within the basis of future transboundary water management under the Treaty. Further, transboundary water use planning is identified as an effective and adaptive means of formally placing ecosystem function within the water management regime under the Columbia River Treaty.