Columbia River System

March 24, 2021

Some quick facts about the Columbia River:

  • The Columbia River originates in eastern British Columbia near Invermere, BC and travels 2,000 km before discharging into the Pacific Ocean on the Washington-Oregon border.
  • The Columbia River is the fourth largest river in North America by water volume, behind only the Mississippi, Mackenzie, and St. Lawrence Rivers.
  • Although only 15% of the Columbia River Basin's land area is located in Canada, approximately 33% of the river's water originates in Canada.
  • Between the Columbia's headwaters and the Pacific Ocean there are over 24,700 MW of installed hydroelectric capacity.

The Columbia River Treaty (CRT)

Canada and the United States have a long history of cooperating on water issues that impact both countries, formalized under the Boundary Water Treaty of 1909.

The Columbia River is prone to serious flooding, including 1948 floods which were responsible for the deaths of 15 people near Portland, OR. During such flooding up to 50% of the Columbia's flow can originate in Canada. The goal of the CRT was to establish an agreement by which flood control structures would be built in Canada for the mutual benefit of Canada and the U.S.

The agreement that was reached called for 15.5 million acre-feet (Maf) of water storage to be constructed in Canada, along with 5.0 Maf of storage in the U.S. (on the Kootenai River). Storage is provided by specified "Treaty Structures" (see below).

In exchange for building the Canadian structures and bearing the impacts of their presence (e.g. the flooding of the Columbia Valley), the U.S. paid Canada $64.3M for avoided flood damages and agreed to return to Canada 50% of the electrical generation benefits (known as "Canadian Entitlement") which results from the Treaty.

The "Treaty Structures"

  • Mica Dam – Kinbasket Lake
  • Duncan Lake – Kootenay Lake
  • Keenleyside Dam – Arrow Lakes
  • Libby Dam – Koocanuse Lake

Labelled with red boxes on map.

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