EPA report: Dams play large role in raising water temperatures

Study issued Tuesday looks at causes of warming water on Snake and Columbia rivers


The Environmental Protection Agency issued a report Tuesday detailing summertime water temperature problems on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers and assigning significant responsibility to federal dams.

The report said dams on both rivers play a role in raising water temperatures above 68 degrees — the state water quality standards of Washington and Oregon, and the point at which the water becomes harmful to salmon and steelhead. The causes of the increasing water temperatures are known as Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

But federal authors also noted the Snake River often exceeds temperature standards before it enters Washington from Idaho, as does the Columbia River when it enters the state from Canada.

The report, that is being released for public comment, is likely to play a role in the long-simmering debate over the role dams play in the decline of threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead. In addition to being a source of mortality to juvenile fish during their migration to the Pacific Ocean, the dams can also harm returning adults. By slowing the flow and increasing the surface area exposed to the sun, the dams cause the Snake River to increase as much as 5.7 degrees, according to the report.

Temperatures higher than 68 degrees can cause adult fish to stall during their return from the ocean and in some cases, such as 2015 when the rivers warmed into the 70s and stayed there for weeks, it can lead to significant mortality. That year, much of the Columbia and Snake river sockeye runs were wiped out by hot water.

Other sources of heating identified by the report include water entering from tributaries; regulated discharges, known as point sources, from things like factories or municipal wastewater treatment plants; and from increased air temperatures attributed to climate change.

But the dams play an outsized role.

“EPA’s analysis of the cumulative nonpoint source heat loading from dam impoundments shows that the dam impoundments have a greater temperature impact than point sources and tributaries,” according to the report.

Environmental groups hailed the report Tuesday as a needed step toward lowering temperatures and improving conditions for salmon and steelhead. Following the 2015 heat event that hammered sockeye, a coalition of groups including Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper and Idaho Rivers United went to court to force the EPA to finish writing the report that had been stalled for nearly two decades.

“We are pleased that it’s done and identifies the hot water problems on the Columbia and Snake rivers,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

The document is not prescriptive and it will largely be up to the states to determine how water quality problems identified in the report should be addressed. VandenHeuvel said breaching the four lower Snake River dams would help meet water quality standards as well as boost salmon and steelhead.

“The water temperatures in the Snake are so hot in the summer that I think dam removal is the best way to restore salmon and provide water cool enough for their survival,” he said.

That type of prescription or calls for more water to be spilled at dams troubles Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest River Partners. Given that the Snake and Columbia rivers are often overheated when they enter Washington, he would like regulators in Oregon and Washington to reexamine their water quality standards.

“The states may have established water quality standards that are unattainable even if the lower Snake and mid-Columbia river dams were not in place,” he said. “It would be unfair to penalize the communities that rely on hydropower for river temperatures way beyond their control.”

The report will be available for public review and comment at www.epa.gov/columbiariver through July 21.

Lawmakers introduce bill to block Trump rule limiting scope of federal water protections

May 14, 2020

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Rep. Grace Napolitano, of California, submitted a bill to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized in April.

The 1972 Clean Water Act made it illegal to discharge any pollutant into “waters of the United States,” unless a permit was obtained.

The exact definition of “waters of the United States” was contested in courts for decades.

The Obama administration attempted to clarify the rule by expanding the definition to include more water bodies that flow directly or indirectly, to navigable waters.

The Trump rule eliminated the 2015 rule and narrowed the definition to four types, leaving other waters under often more lenient state jurisdiction.

The bill’s authors said the Trump administration wrote the rule to benefit polluters at the expense of the health of people who depend on those waters.

“By removing critical protections at the behest of industry, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will make streams and waterways more vulnerable to pollution, which is devastating for the 117 million Americans who rely on these waterways for drinking water,” said DeFazio.

More than a dozen leading environmental organizations have backed the bill, including Earthjustice, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club.

Source: https://www.indianaenvironmentalreporter.org/posts/lawmakers-introduce-bill-to-block-trump-rule-limiting-scope-of-federal-water-protections

Bottled water war: Washington, other states seek to curtail firms in tapping local groundwater

OLYMPIA — Washington state, land of sprawling rainforests and glacier-fed rivers, might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.

The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say bottling companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.

“I was literally beyond shocked,” said Washington state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill to ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater.

“I was jolted to the core to realize the depth and breadth and magnitude of how they have lawyered up in these small towns to take advantage of water rights,” the Democrat said. “The fact that we have incredibly loose, if virtually nonexistent, policy guidelines around this is shocking and a categorical failure.”

Elsewhere, lawmakers in Michigan and Maine also have filed bills to restrict the bottling of groundwater or tax the industry. Local ballot measures have passed in Oregon and Montana to restrict the industry, although the zoning change in Montana’s Flathead County remains tied up in court.

“The Washington state bill is groundbreaking,” said Mary Grant, a water policy specialist with the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “As water scarcity is becoming a deeper crisis, you want to protect your local water supply so it goes for local purposes. (Bottled water) is not an industry that needs to exist.”

Although much of the controversy around the bottled water industry has concerned “bottled at the source” spring water sites, nearly two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States comes from municipal tap water, according to Food & Water Watch. The Washington state legislation would not keep companies from buying and reselling tap water.

Americans consumed nearly 14 billion gallons of bottled water in 2018, while sales reached $19 billion — more than doubling the industry’s size in 2004. The bottled water industry is expected to grow to more than $24 billion in the next three years, according to Beverage Industry magazine.

Industry leaders have opposed sweeping legislation that would cut off resources, pointing out the potential hit to local employment and the importance of bottled water in disaster relief.

“This legislation would prevent any community from having these jobs or having a project in their area,” said Brad Boswell, executive director of the Washington Beverage Association, who testified against the bill. “We think these issues are best dealt with on a project-by-project basis.”

The International Bottled Water Association defended the track record of its members in an emailed statement. The bill in Washington and other legislation to limit the industry “are based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment,” wrote Jill Culora, the group’s vice president of communications.

“All IBWA members,” she wrote, “are good stewards of the environment. When a bottled water company decides to build a plant, it looks for a long-term, sustainable source of water and the ability to protect the land and environment around the source and bottling facility.”

Culora did not address specific examples of community claims that bottling companies have damaged their watersheds and aquifers.

When residents in Randle, Washington, learned of a proposed Crystal Geyser operation last year, some worried about a large industrial plant in their quiet, rural valley near Mount Rainier.

Many feared that the company’s plan to pump 400 gallons a minute from springs on the site would deplete the local aquifer and dry up their wells.

The worry turned to furor when a leaked email exposed the company’s plan to sue the nearby subdivision in response to neighbor opposition, then conduct an underground public relations campaign to gain support for the project.

“Pumping water out of the ground, putting it in plastic bottles and exporting it out of the state of Washington is not in the public interest,” said Craig Jasmer, a leader of the Lewis County Water Alliance, which organized to oppose the Randle plant and has pushed for the statewide ban.

Recent news increased the concerns: Last month, Crystal Geyser pleaded guilty to storing arsenic-contaminated wastewater at a California facility, and then illegally dumping the water into a sewer after being confronted by authorities. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2016, Crystal Geyser paid a timber company for access to a spring that had historically provided the water for the city of Weed, California, forcing the town to find a new water supply.

Local activists in California, Oregon, Michigan and Florida say they have been targeted by big bottlers that damage the environment and provide scant economic benefit.

Nestlé has drawn criticism for its bottling operation in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, which federal officials have concluded is “drying up” creeks.

″(The creeks) are visibly different where the water is extracted and where it’s not,” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project, a California-based group that makes films about environmental issues.

During California’s drought, he said, “Nestlé wasn’t being asked to curtail its water (in)take at the same time as Californians were being asked to significantly reduce the amount of water they were using.”

Just across the Columbia River from Washington, the residents of Hood River County passed a ballot measure in 2016 to ban commercial water bottling after Nestlé announced plans to build a plant that would extract more than 100 million gallons a year.

Aurora del Val, who helped lead the campaign for the ballot measure, said Nestlé first made inroads with local officials, promising jobs for an area that had seen its economy suffer with the decline of the timber industry.

“This seemed like the golden ticket to having a boomtown again,” she said. “But the more educated people became, the more opposition there was in the town.”

In an emailed statement, Nestlé noted its contributions to state economies — one study showed it provided 900 jobs and had an economic impact of $250 million in Florida in 2018. The company also defended its environmental record, without addressing specific claims that its operations are damaging watersheds.

“We have a proven track record of successful long-term management of water resources in states where we operate,” Nestlé Waters North America spokesman Adam Gaber wrote. “It would make absolutely NO sense for Nestle Waters to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies.”

One of Nestlé’s projects is in Osceola Township, Michigan, where local officials are fighting the company’s plan to nearly double the groundwater it extracts from the area.

Locals say that nearby trout streams have turned into mud flats since Nestlé’s arrival, and jobs did not materialize when it chose to build its bottling plant miles away.

“Streams are flooding all over Michigan, except for Twin and Chippewa creeks, which are not,” said Peggy Case, president of the group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The city aquifer is down 14 feet now, and it’s not recharging. There are people with wells in the area that are starting to run dry. They no longer are as happy with Nestlé as they used to be.”

Even if the company’s operations had no environmental effect, Case said her group would still object.

“They are privatizing water,” she said, “and we are opposed to that.”

In a state where the Flint water crisis is still fresh in people’s minds, water resources are a charged issue, said state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat. Rabhi is part of a group of lawmakers pushing a package of bills that would limit the bottled water industry.

Rabhi has filed a bill that would define water as a public trust, instead of a privately owned commodity. Another measure would prohibit shipping bottled water out of the Great Lakes watershed. A third bill would bolster the regulatory authority of the state Department of Natural Resources.

A representative for Absopure, a Michigan-based company that bottles spring water, did not respond to a request for comment. The Michigan Retailers Association said it was not taking a position on the bill, while the Michigan Soft Drink Association and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

In an emailed response, Nestlé said the Michigan bills unfairly “single out one industry, one type of water user, for such restrictions.” The company noted that water bottling accounts for less than 0.01 percent of water use in the state and said its Michigan operations employ 280 workers.

Opponents counter that the industry’s water use is wholly extractive, while other heavy users, such as agriculture, return much of the water they use to the watershed.

Carlyle’s bill in Washington has eight co-sponsors, all Democrats except for state Sen. John Braun, the Republican who represents the Randle community that battled Crystal Geyser. The bill moved through the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee. Backers are waiting to see whether it will be added to the Senate voting calendar.

Some lawmakers, however, have expressed misgivings about taking statewide action against a specific business.

This report is a product of Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Source: https://www.registerguard.com/news/20200218/bottled-water-war-washington-other-states-seek-to-curtail-firms-in-tapping-local-groundwater


Posted: Jan 23, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two U.S. Congressmen representing parts of southern Oregon were quick to sound off Thursday following an announcement from the Trump administration that it would move ahead with rollbacks on Obama-era clean water protections.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the change on Thursday. During the Obama administration, the agency expanded protections of the “waters of the United States” (commonly referred to as WOTUS) to include smaller waterways within the purview of the Clean Water Act — broadening regulations to cover streams, wetlands, small lakes and rivers across the U.S.

The Trump administration said that this interpretation bred “confusion.” According to Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River), it enabled the EPA to potentially regulate waterways as trivial as drain ditches — causing uncertainty for ranchers and farmers.

“For years, farmers and ranchers across Oregon have expressed their concerns to me about the heavy-handed Obama-era definition of WOTUS,” said Walden. “They stressed that their intermittent stream or irrigation ditch would be subject to the burden of overreaching federal regulation.”

Walden’s office said that he was an early critic of the 2015 Obama-era ruling.

In a statement on Thursday, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) strongly disagreed, claiming that the rule change would gut the Clean Water Act and end protections for waterways that millions of people rely on for clean drinking water.

“This is an extraordinarily dark day for the waters of the United States of America, for our environment, for those 117 million Americans who depend upon it for their drinking water, an infinite amount of wildlife impacted, from migratory species to fisheries and others,” said DeFazio. “I am going to do everything I can, within the jurisdiction of my committee and the Clean Water Act, to stop this heinous action.”

The EPA says that the new interpretation, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” delivers on President Trump’s promise to protect the nation’s navigable waters from pollution while promoting economic growth across the country with a clear, “common-sense” approach.

“The EPA’s new definition of WOTUS will both protect our environment and our rural communities,” Walden said. “Today’s announcement is welcome news for rural Oregon. I applaud President Trump and his administration for listening to the concerns of America’s farmers and ranchers and delivering on the promise to revise WOTUS.”

According to the EPA, the new rule only enforces environmental regulations on four main categories of water: territorial seas and navigable waters, tributaries, certain lakes or ponds, and wetlands near other jurisdictional waters. It rules out regulations on any water formed by rainfall or groundwater, as well as ditches, prior croplands, watering ponds, and waste treatment systems.

“This is a tragedy and it’s going to leave tens of millions of Americans unable to trust their taps,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “This rule would provide the lowest level of clean water protection since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 70s. It’s absolutely staggering to think that at this time, when we still have millions of Americans that are suffering from dirty water that they can’t drink, that is unsafe, that we would repeal this level of basic protection for all Americans.”

In a draft commentary published in October, the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board came out in opposition to the proposed rule change, saying that it was “in conflict with established science  . . . and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

Source: https://www.kdrv.com/content/news/Oregon-lawmakers-divided-over-EPA-rollback-of-water-protections-567243451.html

Court orders EPA to write temperature control plans for Columbia, Snake

A federal appeals court has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize a long-overdue plan to lower water temperatures for endangered fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely to intensify the ongoing debate over breaching four Lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington to increase salmon and steelhead runs.

Environmental and commercial fishing groups sued the EPA in 2017 to protect Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead from dangerously high river temperatures. Water exceeding 68 degrees is considered particularly lethal for the fish, causing them to struggle migrating upstream and leaving them susceptible to disease.

The plaintiffs — including Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations — highlighted the summer of 2015, when an estimated 250,000 Snake River sockeye salmon died before they could spawn.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the slack water reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams on the rivers are a major culprit when it comes to heating water.

“The reservoirs have created this hot water problem, and climate change is pushing it over the edge,” VandenHeuvel said. “We need solutions quickly, and they need to be big solutions.”

Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to identify and issue pollution controls for imperiled waterways. The standards — known as “Total Maximum Daily Load,” or abbreviated TMDL — can address high levels of specific pollutants, such as nitrogen, or conditions such as water temperature or turbidity.

Oregon and Washington reported in the mid-1990s that numerous segments of the Columbia and Snake rivers failed to meet temperature standards. In 2000, the states entered into an agreement with the EPA to produce a temperature plan for the rivers.

The agency published a draft TMDL in 2003. However, it was never finalized and no progress has been made by either the states or EPA since then.

A Seattle district judge ruled in 2018 that the EPA is required by law to issue the plan. The appeals court upheld that decision on Dec. 20, giving the agency 30 days.

“Because Washington and Oregon have conclusively refused to develop and issue a temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the EPA is obligated to act,” Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote in her opinion for the appeals court. “The time has come — the EPA must do so now.”

A spokeswoman for the EPA said she the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

The ruling also notes that water temperatures are projected to rise with increased human activity on the rivers, and that 65% of remaining salmon and steelhead populations face a high risk of extinction.

VandenHeuvel said the groups are looking for a “comprehensive, science-based plan that looks at all of the options,” including possible dam removal.

“There should be a serious analysis of removal of Snake River dams, due to their impact on hot water and salmon,” he said.

Nic Nelson, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said hot water in the Lower Snake and Columbia rivers has been a year-in, year-out problem for endangered salmon.

“This victory will create more protections for endangered species that are an indelible part of our Northwest way of life, culture, economy and heritage,” Nelson said.

Coincidentally, the court’s water temperature ruling came out on the same day as a $750,000 study from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office weighing the pros and cons of breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the lower Snake River.

The dams not only generate electricity, but provide irrigation water and allow farmers to ship their crops via barges, as opposed to congested highways or railroads. Agriculture and industry groups have argued the cost and disruption to businesses and local communities from breaching dams would be significant.

A spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, which represents ports, businesses and economic interests on the river, said the group is aware of the court ruling, but did not have further comment.

Source: https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/water/court-orders-epa-to-write-temperature-control-plans-for-columbia/article_546fbc56-2810-11ea-ab49-f7acc454b367.html

OPINION: Southwestern states, keep your hands off Dakota County water

There are few resources more critical to the well-being of Dakota County and its residents both now and in the future than the county’s drinking water supply.

Yet it was this very water supply that was threatened by a recent request to pump and ship hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater from Dakota County to southwestern states like Arizona.

Empire Builder Investments, the real estate arm of Progressive Rail, sought approval in October from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to install two pumps on 6 acres in southern Dakota County. Under the scheme, the pumps would have tapped our deepest aquifer, extracted up to 500 million gallons of groundwater annually, and then shipped it by rail using Water Train, an Oregon-based company currently providing water to agencies in Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

This request to export groundwater is unprecedented in Minnesota history.

The Dakota County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose this exportation of water for several reasons, not the least of which is that Dakota County may face water issues of our own over the next two decades.

We appreciate that the request to export our groundwater was met with a similarly icy reception at the DNR, which makes the final decision. Thank you to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen in particular, for issuing a statement stating the DNR saw “virtually no scenario” under which the agency would grant a water appropriation permit for this sort of project.

This being said, it is our understanding that another, modified application is in the works that will again seek to export groundwater from Dakota County to southwestern states.

With about 90% of Dakota County residents relying on groundwater as their primary drinking water source, whether from municipal or private wells, this has us deeply concerned.

Dakota County’s population is expected to grow by more than 12% to nearly 500,000 residents by 2030, with greater demand placed on a limited resource, particularly in the most populated areas of the county. At heightened risk of water depletion, according to our groundwater studies, are cities such as Inver Grove Heights, Eagan and Apple Valley, as well as rural parts of Dakota County — areas and residents we represent on the County Board.

Thus, our holiday wish list this year includes three requests.

First, to the DNR, please continue to oppose these shortsighted schemes to export groundwater.

Next, to legislators, please update state laws to provide more local control over groundwater-tapping schemes like this, in light of the potentially dire consequences for local communities and their residents.

Finally, to Empire Builder Investments, Water Train and Arizona, you can have all the snow from our driveways you want, just keep your hands off our groundwater.

Source: http://www.startribune.com/southwestern-states-keep-your-hands-off-dakota-county-water/566151051/

Oregon joins western states to oppose plan to charge for U.S. reservoir water

August 26, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. — Attorneys general from a dozen western states, including Oregon, want the Trump administration to halt a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that they say usurps states’ authority over their own water.

The Water Supply Rule proposed in the waning days of the Obama administration could allow the Corps to charge for water drawn from reservoirs it manages, said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is heading up the multi-state effort.

Attorneys general from Idaho, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming sent a letter to the Trump administration asking to withdraw the proposal, which has lingered for nearly three years.

Stenehjem said Friday he thought the proposal had languished but attorneys general recently learned that it still was being reviewed.

“They have continued with it stubbornly and we are worried these rules could be implemented,” said Stenehjem. “The use and management of water that flows through states always has belonged to states. The Corps is clearly wrong and they need to take it back and undo it.”

The Corps did not immediately respond Friday to telephone calls seeking comment.

The agency, in its request for comments on the proposal in December 2016, said the intent “is to enhance (the Corps’) ability to cooperate with interested parties by facilitating water supply uses of reservoirs in a manner that is consistent with the authorized purposes of those reservoirs, and does not interfere with lawful uses of water under state law or other federal law.”

Stenehjem said the proposed rule has “implications for all states,” and the Corps’ proposal could require “municipal, industrial and domestic users” of water from the reservoirs to “sign a water supply contract and pay the Corps for the water.”

Source: https://www.registerguard.com/news/20190826/oregon-joins-western-states-to-oppose-plan-to-charge-for-us-reservoir-water

Idaho, Oregon OK water certifications for hydroelectric dams

KIVI Boise May 29, 2019  AP

Idaho, Oregon OK water certifications for hydroelectric dams

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho and Oregon have completed key elements in a process that will allow the license renewal for a major hydroelectric project on the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border, an Idaho utility said Tuesday.

Idaho Power said the two states approved the company’s water quality certification for the Hells Canyon Complex on Friday. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will now review the certification.

Idaho Power has been trying to obtain a new 50-year license for the three-dam complex after the old one expired in 2005, and it’s been operating on annual licenses.

The utility had been caught in the middle of a fight between the two states over returning federally protected salmon and steelhead above the dams.

The deal that ultimately emerged involves Idaho Power spending more than $400 million on water quality and habitat improvements, including narrowing and deepening key stretches of the Snake River between Walters Ferry and Homedale.

Idaho Power supplies electricity to nearly 534,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. The Hells Canyon Complex in a normal water year produces about 30% of the company’s total annual power generation.

The complex, comprised of the Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams, together also provides about 70% of the company’s hydroelectric generation, the company said.

The states approving the water certification “allows us to move forward with relicensing our most valuable asset,” said Brett Dumas, director of Environmental Affairs for Idaho Power. “And, it clears the way for a tremendous number of projects to improve the environment of the Snake River while Idaho Power continues to provide safe, reliable, clean energy into the future.”

In a related relicensing matter, Idaho Power sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year seeking to force that agency to act on a request by the state of Idaho to modify water temperature standards below the hydroelectric project where federally protected fall chinook salmon reproduce.

The agency has responded and now NOAA Fisheries is considering a possible analysis of how the dams harm salmon and orcas, which feed on salmon produced in the Columbia River Basin.


Source: https://www.kivitv.com/idaho-oregon-ok-water-certifications-for-hydroelectric-dams

Canada: Columbia River Treaty a boon to the U.S., but must benefit all (Guest opinion)

By Brandon Lee

Early in the new year, Canadian and American officials will meet to discuss the renewal of one of the most enduring examples of our strong partnership – the Columbia River Treaty.

Under the treaty’s terms, three dams and reservoirs in British Columbia, and one dam in Montana that floods the Kootenay Valley into B.C., provide flood protection and help generate hydroelectricity downstream in the United States.

For more than 50 years, this benefit-sharing agreement has reliably prevented major flooding in the lower Columbia River Basin. It’s helped manage water flows to generate carbon-free electricity. It’s fueled technology booms from the jet age to cloud computing. And it has provided stable water levels for irrigation, shipping and recreational use across the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The treaty also has become a critical platform for recent efforts to protect endangered salmon and to begin restoring some of the river’s natural functions. The treaty has done all this while helping provide the Pacific Northwest with the lowest electricity rates in the U.S.

The Canadian government has been working closely with the Province of British Columbia, Canada’s indigenous people and communities within the Canadian portion of the Columbia River basin. We look forward to sitting down with our American partners to talk about the future of the treaty, and to take stock of changes that have occurred since the treaty was ratified in 1964.

Though the treaty has provided benefits to Canada, there are ongoing significant costs for holding back flood waters on the British Columbia portion of the river basin. Canada’s indigenous people and local communities have dealt with drastic fluctuations in reservoir levels causing environmental, economic and cultural losses for the benefit of our downstream neighbors.

The original objective of the Columbia River Treaty was to create and share benefits between the United States and Canada. For Canada, the starting point for discussion on the modernization of the treaty is recognition of the multiple benefits created by the treaty in the U.S., and the continued equitable sharing of these benefits. This must remain our shared goal going forward.

We see a tremendous opportunity to build on a great foundation by continuing to improve environmental conditions and the many economic and cultural benefits that can flow from a renewed treaty. We need to strive for a flexible, basin-wide approach to the challenges of climate change, while also modernizing flood risk management and producing carbon-free electricity.

The Columbia River Treaty has been an important element of the Canada-U.S. partnership. By approaching renewal of this agreement together in a spirit of shared benefits, we can both improve on the existing benefits while addressing new priorities and needs.

Brandon Lee is the Consul General of Canada to the Pacific Northwest, making the first public statement on his country’s negotiating stance on the topic. He lives in Seattle.

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/01/canada_columbia_river_treaty_a.html

Montana senate fails to adopt more stringent environmental review for water bottling facilities


Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls, left, listens as Sen. Bob Keenan of Bigfork speaks at the 64th Montana Legislative Session in Helena on April 24, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead BeaconSHOW CAPTION

Bigfork Republican Sen. Bob Keenan’s final effort to adopt a more stringent environmental review process for water-bottling facilities failed on Friday, dealing a blow to residents in his district who are desperately trying to halt plans for a large-scale bottling plant in Creston from moving forward.

Keenan’s Senate Bill 215 would have required that “large-scale facilities that package water or water-based products for human consumption” be subject to the Major Facilities Siting Act, which currently regulates pipelines, electric transmission links, pump stations, and other facilities associated with the delivery of energy.

The Montana Legislature put the act into effect in the 1980s to ensure that the state’s environmental resources are protected, the socioeconomic impact of using that resource is considered, citizens have a say in siting such projects, and to establish effective methods for processing the authorizations for these projects.

On March 7, the Senate Natural Resources Committee tabled the bill, and on March 24 Keenan attempted to blast the bill out of committee for a second reading on the senate floor. The motion failed on a 31-19 vote.

“This is the single biggest issue on the tip of everybody’s tongues in my district, so I had to come up with a solution. I have gotten north of 700 emails asking for more environmental scrutiny on water bottling plants. It is nonstop,” Keenan said. “And now it’s dead. I have no idea why there is such resistance for further environmental review. What are they trying to hide? I mean what’s the big deal if it’s a legitimate operation?”

Keenan said he believes water-bottling projects should fall under the Major Facility Siting Act’s purview after watching how the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation handled the permits sought by Lew Weaver, the Creston man interested in turning his farmland into the Montana Artesian Water Company.

Weaver applied for a permit with the DNRC that would allow his company to produce up to 140,000 water bottles per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water right would allow Weaver’s company to receive 710 acre feet of water annually, equaling roughly 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles.

The DNRC issued a preliminary determination to grant the water right permit last January, but that doesn’t mean a right was issued. A group of residents considered to be “valid objectors” opposed the DNRC’s decision, and a hearing is scheduled to discuss those objections with the state on May 23.

Neighbors to the bottling facility have publicly raised concerns, asking the Flathead County Commission to expand the Egan Slough Zoning District to keep all the land agricultural and then suing the county after the commission rejected the zoning expansion.

Keenan said he believes the most controversial aspect of the proposed plant for many people is the sheer amount of water sought in the permits, as well as the perceived lack of oversight from the state. The DEQ’s environmental assessment of the project left much to be desired, he said.

“The state’s environmental assessment checklist is entirely inadequate,” he said. “It is superficial and it is inadequate. The DEQ found that there is no aquatic life in Flathead Lake. That right there tells me there needs to be more environmental review.”

Keenan said Montana’s Constitution ensures that water belongs to the state, and that any attempts to package it and ship it out should be scrutinized.

“It was only opposed because other lawmakers thought that it was a local issue in need of a local solution,” Keenan said. “We are state lawmakers. This is what we do.”

Source: http://flatheadbeacon.com/2017/03/25/bill-requiring-review-water-bottling-plants-dies-committee/