Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Assessing the Current State of Transboundary Cooperation in the International Columbia River Basin

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  • The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) is often used as an example of how treaties can work to normalize, regulate, and improve the cooperative management of shared water resources between basin countries. Few would argue that, in its limited mandate to regulate hydropower generation and flood risk management for downstream communities, the CRT has been anything but a success. However, there are many aspects of water resource management, including water quality, aquatic species, and indigenous peoples' rights and responsibilities that are left unaddressed by the Treaty. These issues are of increasing importance to managers and stakeholders in river basins around the world. This paper asks, in the absence of a formal agreement governing these issues, are the United States and Canada coordinating the broader management of the Columbia River and its international tributaries? If so, around which water resource issues do they collaborate and at what level? If not, do these gaps in co-management negatively affect the basin? In order to assess the current state of transboundary water cooperation between the United States and Canada within the basin, 50 transboundary initiatives were identified and categorized into management categories including: ecosystem function, fish passage & habitat, climate change, invasive species or toxics management, and energy. Interviews were then conducted with 34 natural resource managers throughout the international basin on their work with these initiatives, specifically addressing areas where they are, and are not, collaborating at this time. The interviews revealed that, while there is a great deal of collaborative work being done, it appears largely fragmented and restricted to sub-basin activities. International, basin-wide cooperation, outside of treaty obligations under the CRT, appears limited at this time. This thesis contends that there is a need for these sub-basin activities to be networked with one another, either through the Treaty, or through an inclusive, legitimate, and transparent river basin organization.
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