Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, July 1953: The Columbia River Treaty


Hugh Keenleyside (High Arrow) Dam, Castlegar, British Columbia

Renata, British Columbia, is a lost town on the right bank of the Columbia River in the 232km stretch from Revelstoke to Castlegar, where it forms the Arrow Lake, or Lakes, in dry years. It might seem like cheating to call a river a lake, but the Okanagan River runs through Okanagan Lake, and Nakusp is the next Kelowna. (That's a joke for all you BCers out there.) Most of Renata (there's a bed and breakfast or two still operating in the upper reaches of the former townsite) was quickly flooded out by the rising waters of the Lake after the Keenleyside Dam was completed on 10/10/68. As an isolated farming community still mainly populated by the Mennonite farmers the railway originally suckered into settling there fifty years before, Renata wasn't much missed, any more than the other small communities similarly affected. Although when Nakusp real estate goes for as much as Kelowna's that lost waterfront property will be the subject of much speculation. (Doubling down on the joke.)

Since we're currently visiting old Renata and witnessing the Eisenhower Administration's bumbling approach to hydroelectric and related hydraulic control issues, I thought this might be a good time to talk about the Columbia River Treaty, so the reader will know what the heck I am talking about. 

Also, considering how insane the Eisenhower Administration has turned out to be so far, on this issue and so many others, I wanted to poke around the Internet and find out, "Why now?" Well, now I know, and the answer is pretty typical of the actual record of the Infrastructure President, in that he didn't actually do fuck all except get in the way. 

The official narrative asserts that the Columbia River Treaty of 1961 was a response to the Vanport Flood of 1948. I talked about Vanport here five years ago in an Appendix post I deemed so thin that I dragged the Berlin Airlift and some servomechanism stuff at the same time. Busy month!  One thing that should be clear from that discussion is that Portland, and America's reaction to the flooding out of only the second predominantly Black community in the state of Oregon was . . . .nuanced. And 1961 was thirteen years after 1948. And as Raymond Moley repeatedly and indignantly points out indignantly, it's a lot easier for the Bureau of Reclamations to build dams when they have (SOCIALIST) purposes beyond power generation. Although the Treaty was signed by Diefenbaker and Eisenhower and the driving impetus is attributed to long-term BC premier W. A. C. Bennett, and these are not usually seen as men of the left, leaving aside attempts to burnish Eisenhower's reputation. 

Under the terms of the treaty, Canada provided 15.5 million acre-feet of reservoir storage to stabilise flows on the Columbia, and favourable terms for the export of excess hydroelectric power generated by the Mica Dam at Revelstoke; power generation at the two storage dams, Keenleyside and the Duncan dam, came later. The United States was permitted to build the Libby Dam on the Kootenai River, with a reservoir extending into Canada. The dams also make for a more consistent power output from the American dams on the Columbia system, convenient for avoiding wild swings in aluminum prices, if aluminum were still smelted in the Pacific Northwest, and presumably on the costs of data storage now that that giant servers take so much of it. Canada also makes a fair chunk of money for providing flood control and more and more consistent electricity to the United States, and this money funded "Wacky's" (which is what we call him; as see above the Right Honourable William Bennett shooting a flaming arrow into a barge loaded with paid-off BC bonds) presumably-not-socialist takeover of power generation in this province and some of his megaprojects, there being others.  Wikipedia says that 3144 properties were bought and 1350 people evacuated in the Arrow Lakes, a testimony to the sparse population of the region then and now. The even larger reservoir in the Big Bend region above Revelstoke seems to have displaced just about nobody, there having been no tourist development along the Big Bend Highway, apparently.  

In the United States, the Canadian Entitlement, which is to say, the share of the extra  hydroelectric power generated in the United States by "Canadian" water, was sold on perhaps favourable terms to a consortium of American utilities, which sounds like something that would have engaged the interest of the typical Eisenhower Cabinet member, and also, it says in this official history, justified the construction of the "Pacific Northwest Southwest intertie," which is to say, two 940 mile 500kV AC lines from the John Day Dam on the Columbia to the Lugo Substation near Los Angeles, a DC line from the Dalles to Los Angeles (3100 mW), and another 500kV AC line from Eugene to "Tesla Substation near San Francisco." (A total of 7900 mW delivered.) That's a lot of electrical mega-engineering, and, as the history notes, it was inspired by the 1948 drought, which affected business, and not some poor people being flooded out of their townhouses. And even more by the thought that Pacific Gas and Electric would be able to sell, first, inexpensive Pacific Northwest electrons, and then really inexpensive Canadian-sourced artisanal electrons. 

Wacky got his dam, and, if, as is often the case, the electricity was an excessive bargain, the province still has it, which is the great thing about long term hydroelectric, and other, infrastructure. That's a lot of carbon not burned over the years. Speaking of which, the Oregon Encyclopedia I was just quoting concludes by observing that, if drought continue in the Southwest, the intertie might be indispensable for delivering surplus Pacific Northwest power to the California market. Sure. Why not? It's raining now. And if you were wondering whether Eisenhower fucked it up, actually his Administration sat on the Intertie while negotiations for the Columbia Treaty went ahead. This Bureau of Reclamation history, has the scoop, and also the helpful map, above. It turns out that a major part of the proposed Intertie, using the innovative (for America, not Sweden) high voltage DC technology, was not built, and the PNW and SW power grids are not as well integrated as they ought to be, and power goes to waste, resulting in more carbon being burned. But that happened under Nixon, so totally different from the Eisenhower Administration. 

Look, a video!

Not much going on in central Oregon, same as the Arrow Lakes, but drier. There's a nice instrumental piece at the close with aerial shots of central Oregon landscape. Talking stops  at 25:00 like somebody has just learned that the Germans are counterattacking through the Ardennes and Monty's on the line. 

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