The Columbia River Treaty and the Dynamics of Transboundary Water Negotiations in a Changing Environment: How Might Climate Change Alter the Game?

40 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2014  

Barbara A. Cosens

University of Idaho - College of Law

Alexander K. Fremier

Washington State University

Nigel Bankes

University of Calgary - Faculty of Law; University of Tromso - Faculty of Law

John Abatzoglou

University of Idaho - College of Science

Date Written: November 21, 2014

Abstract

Review of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada presents an opportunity to consider how governance might be made more adaptive in the face of climate change while maintaining an appropriate level of stability. Climate change scenarios applied to the Columbia River Basin predict an increasing water deficit due primarily to change in timing of runoff and increased demand as the result of warming. Current uses that will suffer the most from change in timing of runoff are those dependent on late summer flow – fish and farmers. The intersection of climate change with normal climate variability also suggests greater extremes that will require planning for both drought and flood beyond the historic recurrence and magnitude. A problem-solving approach to bridge the gap between the status quo and a modernized system must be combined with new approaches to governance that are both more flexible and more responsive to change if the basin is to navigate the future. This challenges not only the conventional wisdom that regulatory stability is essential to economic stability and achievement of societal goals, but the existing distribution of benefits among powerful players in the basin. Yet the goals of even the current recipients of benefits will not be met if a rigid approach is maintained as climate change unfolds. Adaptive water governance requires attention to institutional structure, introduction of adaptive authority and local participatory capacity including knowledge building, and process design that balances stability with flexibility. Models for implementation of these factors are found in international law and provide a pathway to adaptation to climate change through a modernized transboundary water agreement on the Columbia River.

Suggested Citation

Cosens, Barbara A. and Fremier, Alexander K. and Bankes, Nigel and Abatzoglou, John, The Columbia River Treaty and the Dynamics of Transboundary Water Negotiations in a Changing Environment: How Might Climate Change Alter the Game? (November 21, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2529264 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2529264

Barbara A. Cosens (Contact Author)

University of Idaho - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 442321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321
United States
208 885-6298 (Phone)
208 885-2859 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.uidaho.edu/law/people/faculty/bcosens

Alexander K. Fremier

Washington State University ( email )

School of the Environment
122
Pullman, WA 99164-1228
United States

HOME PAGE: http://soe.wsu.edu/people/faculty/alexfremier.html

Nigel Bankes

University of Calgary - Faculty of Law ( email )

Murray Fraser Hall
2500 University Dr. N.W.
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4
Canada

University of Tromso - Faculty of Law ( email )

Tromsø, 9037
Norway

John Abatzoglou

University of Idaho - College of Science ( email )

875 Perimeter Drive
MS 3025
Moscow, ID 83844-3025
United States

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