FLOOD MITIGATION AND THE COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is an international agreement for water cooperation, governing the upper Columbia River Basin flows for both flood control and power generation. Largely created in response to devastating floods, the 1964 Treaty urged for future flood mitigation strategies that protect property and the well-being of communities along the river. This led to the construction of three large storage reservoirs in British Columbia and one in Montana. The storage that these dams provide have contributed to flood risk reduction in Canada and the United States for over half a century. Critical flood control benefits are set to expire in 2024, potentially changing the consistent storage operations provided under the CRT. If no future agreements are made, flood control operations are set to change to a more ad hoc “called upon” flood control management approach post-2024.
Given these potential changes, Canada and the U.S. began negotiations to modernize the Treaty in 2018 – a year marking the 70th anniversary of the historic 1948 Vanport Flood – one of the principal floods generating the need for the CRT. This tragic event caused loss of life, displaced approximately 18,000 people, and destroyed the City of Vanport, Oregon. The flood, occurring within Multnomah County Drainage District’s jurisdiction, was the result of a railroad embankment breaching in the levee system which has since been updated and improved.
As the Treaty is modernized, there are many complex interests to be weighed, stressing the need for flexible and adaptive management strategies. As the local sponsor for a federally-authorized levee system, the Multnomah County Drainage District supports the following objectives for the Columbia River Treaty negotiations:
- Maintaining a level of flood risk reduction that safely protects lives, property, and infrastructure.
- Ensuring regional coordination of flood risk reduction efforts through continued education and collaboration.
- Developing an operations plan that accounts for unpredictable and more extreme weather events and future climate change scenarios.