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NW Fishletter #372, August 7, 2017

[4] Report Says Modernized Columbia River Treaty Ups Value of Basin's Natural Assets

Addressing ecosystem functions in a modernized Columbia River Treaty would expand the value of the basin's natural assets by $1.5 billion annually, according to a new analysis by Earth Economics, although it would slightly diminish hydropower value.

The report compares and evaluates the value of Columbia River Basin resources under current conditions and their value under the conditions of a Columbia River Treaty that integrates ecosystem-based function.

The report--"The Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin: A Comprehensive Analysis"--was conducted by Earth Economics for the Upper Columbia United Tribes, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Pacific Rivers, WaterWatch of Oregon and Save Our Wild Salmon, and was made available online July 6.

To determine the benefits of shifting from the current management model to one based on ecosystem function, both scenarios assume Columbia River Treaty post-2024 situations without changes to flood risk management required by the CRT.

The Columbia River Treaty could be updated by 2024.

The scenario under current conditions limits ecosystem-based function to the 2008-2014 BiOp operations.

The report estimates that today the basin's natural assets have an annual economic value of $198.8 billion. The current value of ecosystem services alone totals $189.9 billion annually, the study says.

Examples of ecosystem services include water quality, supply and storage, breathable air, food, stable atmospheric conditions, and disaster risk reduction.

Most of the basin's current economic benefits come from forests ($149 billion) and rivers ($11 billion). While forests cover more acres than rivers in the basin, rivers have a higher per-acre ecosystem value, the report said.

The analysis does not assign a monetary value to the tribes' deep connections to the Columbia Basin. Instead, the report provides a qualitative analysis of its spiritual and cultural components.

value
Total economic value of the basin under ecosystem-based function (EBF). 3EA refers to a new CRT. Credit: Earth Economics

"The tribes and other residents value the Columbia River Basin for far more than monetary value alone," the report says.

According to the study, the primary difference between the two scenarios "is the rebalancing of value between built capital and natural capital."

"In effect, the river wealth in historical tribal first foods that was lost to management and operation of built capital for flood risk and hydropower would be at least partially restored, enhancing tribal wealth and sustainable natural capital."

Under a Columbia River Treaty informed by ecosystem function, the only economic benefit that declines is hydroelectric production, according to the 150-page report.

The value of hydroelectricity would drop by $69 million annually from its current value of almost $3 billion, the analysis estimates.

In the new scenario, hydropower "is reduced to augment spring and early summer river flows with reservoir storage, thereby also stabilizing reservoirs and providing for restoration of fish populations to historical areas," the report states.

Other benefits are enhanced under this hypothetical approach.

The report says non-tribal commercial fishery value would increase by $7 million annually. Sport fishing would increase by $46 million, while general recreation would increase only slightly.

The analysis puts a value of $389 million for the increased spring and early-summer water flow and $31 million for nutrient enhancement, which is the dispersal of vital marine-derived nutrients created by more fish living and dying in the basin's rivers.

Values for flood risk management, agriculture and navigation stay the same under both the current and new management scenarios.

In the ecosystem-based function scenario, the existence value rises by $1 billion and represents the largest annual asset increase in the analysis.

Existence value is the benefit people place on knowing an area or feature continues to exist in a particular condition, according to a definition by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

With total salmon and steelhead populations rising as much as 51 percent--this figure includes reintroduction above Grand Coulee Dam--under the ecosystem function-based scenario, this increase in fish returns "yields a willingness-to-pay estimate of $404 per household per year. Given that the total number of households within the Columbia River Basin is about 2.8 million, the annual existence value benefit of increased salmon runs would be $1.1 billion," the analysis calculates.

The report goes on to postulate that integrating the ecosystem approach into other regional processes and throughout the basin would expand the natural capital value by $19 billion per year. This additional value assumes a 10-percent increase in the basin's ecosystem-based functions.

"Updating the Columbia River Treaty to include ecosystem-based function and improving dam management would benefit . . . our economy, our wildlife and our culture," D.R. Michel, Executive Director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, said in a prepared statement. -Laura Berg

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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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