7.10.17 | By Jessica Hanson

The Columbia River Basin is a vast, abundant watershed and the foundation for communities, fish and wildlife, and economic activity, from its headwaters in British Columbia, through Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, all the way to coastal fisheries and up to southeast Alaska. Supporting immense forests, the largest salmon runs in the world, and diverse and abundant wildlife, the basin's 258,000 square miles provide vital resources.

Our region benefits immensely from these natural resources - sustainable food, jobs, recreation, clean water, and a healthier environment are just a few examples. Yet, these natural resources have been seriously degraded by dams and other developments. When assets, whether built or natural, are not managed sustainably, economic loss occurs.

Earth Economics, in collaboration with Upper Columbia United Tribes, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, Pacific Rivers, Save Our Wild Salmon, and WaterWatch of Oregon, has just released a new report that demonstrates the immense value of the Columbia River Basin’s natural capital. In fact, natural capital within the basin provides $198 billion in value annually in food, water, flood risk reduction, recreation, habitat, aesthetic, and other benefits. Fifteen Columbia Basin Tribes and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) contributed to and supported the development of this report.

The report also shows that modernizing dam management and increasing water flows in below average water years would enhance the basin’s natural capital value by enhancing salmon runs. If a modest 10% increase in ecosystem-based function could be achieved, it would further add $19 billion per year to the basin’s value. The report’s release comes at a critical time for the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, which is due for an update in 2024.

"This report comes at a time when the region is poised to take a historic step to modernize the Columbia River Treaty," stated Jaime A. Pinkham, Executive Director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "There is vast potential for natural capital remaining in the Columbia River system. These findings tell negotiators that incorporating ecosystem-based function into the Treaty will broaden and expand the economic benefits that can co-exist with flood control and energy production. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.”

As it now stands, the treaty is geared towards two primary goals: flood risk management and hydropower generation. Tribes, NGOs, and other regional stakeholders have a slightly different view on management, however – they are asking that a third goal, ecosystem-based function, be added to a modernized treaty. Ecosystem-based function is a concept introduced by the tribes during the development of the regional recommendation. It acknowledges what nature provides and people’s obligation to protect and nurture it.

 “Updating the Columbia River Treaty to include ecosystem-based function and improving dam management would benefit everyone who lives in this sacred place. It would benefit our economy, our wildlife and our culture. It is our responsibility to present and future generations to make this happen for the benefit of all.” stated D.R. Michel, Executive Director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes.

The full report is available on our website here.

More natural Columbia River flow would aid Northwest, tribal study says; The Seattle Times