Academic journal article Environmental Law

Resilience and Law as a Theoretical Backdrop for Natural Resource Management: Flood Management in the Columbia River Basin

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Resilience and Law as a Theoretical Backdrop for Natural Resource Management: Flood Management in the Columbia River Basin

Article excerpt

The 1964 Columbia River Treaty entered by the United States and Canada for mutual benefits in flood control and hydropower generation is under review in anticipation of expiration of certain flood control provisions in 2024. This Article asserts that nonstructural measures should be the primary focus of new expenditure on flood risk management in the Columbia River Basin over the next sixty-year period of treaty implementation to align flood risk management with management for ecosystem resilience. Resilience is the measure of the capacity of a system to maintain important functions, structures, identity, and feedback through adaptation in the face era disturbance. Water basin governance can enhance or detract from ecosystem resilience, thus affecting the resilience of the combined social-ecological system. Floodplains provide important ecosystem function not only as natural storage in flood risk management, but also to aquatic ecosystem resilience in general and salmonid habitat in particular. From the perspective of the social system, reliance on multiple geographically widespread locations for natural storage reduces the risk of crisis in the face of collapse era single flood-control structure. These concepts have broad applicability to any major river basin with high hydrologic variability, and the Columbia River Basin faces a unique opportunity to employ them. Columbia River Treaty review combined with a public desire for improved ecosystem function presents an opportunity to enhance ecosystem resilience outside the emotional crisis management that ensues following a flood. Phased movement from sole reliance on centralized storage-based flood management by incremental addition of more diffuse nonstructural measures will enhance the social-ecological resilience of the Columbia River Basin.

     A. Floodplains and Water Quality
     B. Floodplains and Salmon Habitat
     C. Flood Risk Management and Identification of the Impediments to
        Multiple Diffuse Sources of Flood Storage
     A. The 1964 Columbia River Treaty
     B. 2014/2024 Columbia River Treaty Review
     C. Public Input to the Treaty Review
     D. Addressing Impediments to Diffuse Flood Risk Management


The setting: A community of temporary public housing units built for shipyard workers then occupied by returning low-income veterans following World War II. Located on the floodplain of a major river, the housing had been necessary due both to the large influx of workers needed for the war effort and to the fact that the larger city nearby did not welcome the African American workers among the newcomers. (1) In fact, the first constitution of the state in which the community was located had prohibited African Americans from entering its borders. (2)

The crisis: On May 30, 1948, the river was flowing at a level reported to be fifteen feet above the community when the dike separating the river from its floodplain broke. (3) Fifteen people lost their lives. (4) Twenty-five percent of those left homeless were African American. (5) A residue of oil from the small refinery located in the floodplain nearby covered houses when the water receded. (6)

The location: Vanport, Oregon, a city destroyed in the 1948 Columbia River flood and never rebuilt. (7)

The response: Dams were considered the key to taming the Columbia River, but the best remaining storage sites were located in Canada while the major flood control benefits would be downstream in the United States. (8) Collaboration would be needed.

The 1948 flood is considered a major factor in moving forward negotiations between the United States and Canada concerning Columbia River storage, although studies had already been underway. (9) The Columbia River Treaty, completed and approved in 1964, provided for the development of three dams on the river in Canada, that, combined with several new dams on tributaries in the United States, would increase storage capacity on the river from 6% to 40% of its average annual flow. …

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