The Future of the Columbia River Treaty


The Future of the Columbia River Treaty


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For 48 years, the United States and Canada have cooperatively shared the management of the Columbia River under the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). The Treaty has provided both parties with significant direct benefits from flood control and power generation and indirect benefits of economic growth in the Pacific Northwest. While not without flaws, the CRT has been hailed as “one of the most successful trans-boundary water treaties based on equitable sharing of downstream benefits”.

In 2012, it is time to think about the future of the Columbia River Treaty. Under international law, the U.S. and Canada may agree to modify or terminate the Treaty at any time. The CRT contains no automatic expiration date but either party may unilaterally terminate portions of the Treaty beginning in 2024 by providing notice by 2014. The parties and other stakeholders in the Columbia River Basin have already begun to think about what a future treaty might look like. Should the status quo continue? If not, how should it change? How could the changes be effected in law?

The discussion paper – The Future of the Columbia River Treaty – examines the degree of flexibility available under international law and the domestic laws of the United States and Canada to negotiate and implement possible future legal arrangements for the Columbia River Basin

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Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy




International Law | Water Law


Authors: Nigel Banks and Barbara Cosens

The Future of the Columbia River Treaty