Today 16 religious leaders sent a second request to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to begin negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty based on ethical principles of stewardship and justice.
The religious leaders’ letter comes one week in advance of the release of Pope Francis’s Encyclical on climate change and the deteriorating global environment, providing a North American example of a river severely damaged by past decisions and unfolding climate change. In 2014 the first request was sent by different religious leaders and also indigenous leaders representing 15 Columbia Basin tribes in the United States and 17 First Nations in Canada.
“The Columbia River is the historic lifeblood of the tribes who have lived in its watershed from time immemorial. And rivers are the lifeblood of the planet. As a matter of justice, and as a matter of survival, I join with others across the watershed in urging the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty,” said The Rev. Jessica Crist, Bishop of the Montana Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Religious and indigenous leaders are asking both nations to establish an international model of resolving transboundary water conflicts by applying the Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The Declaration sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty that include respecting indigenous rights, protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems with abundant fish and wildlife populations, and providing fish passage to all historical locations.
[pull_quote_left]Members of the 2015 PNW Annual Conference will consider a resolution to endorse a supporting declaration.[/pull_quote_left]In May, the U.S. State Department informed Congressional leaders that negotiating the Treaty was a national priority, and that the U.S. would seek to add Ecosystem Function as one of the primary purposes of the Treaty. The State Department decision is based on Regional Recommendations issued in December 2013 by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.
All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation. Religious leaders have joined in support of Tribes and First Nations. A foundation for this growing support by the faith community is the Columbia River Pastoral Letter released in 2001 by the twelve Roman Catholic bishops of the international watershed, and based on region-wide listening sessions.
“The Columbia Basin tribes welcome and appreciate the religious leaders’ support for the two countries to modernize the Columbia River Treaty on a foundation of social and environmental justice to achieve shared goals,” said Leotis McCormack a Chaplain and member of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee. “The Regional Recommendation is a historic document that provides a vision for a modernized Treaty that reflects today’s values of ecosystem-based function and restored fish passage.”
With glaciers melting in the headwaters and water temperatures rising in the lower Columbia River, climate change is already threatening the river and fisheries that depend on the river. Adding ecosystem function as a third treaty purpose co-equal with hydropower and flood risk management would encourage both Canada and the United States to co-manage the Columbia River as a single river, restore salmon to areas now blocked by dams, and reconnect the river with floodplains.