Long-anticipated negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty will start early next year, the State Department announced, and electric cooperatives and other utilities in the Northwest will be paying close attention.

The 53-year-old treaty between the United States and Canada governs hydropower and flood control along the 1,200-mile river.

When talks begin, one of the main issues for Northwest utilities will be what's known as the "Canadian Entitlement." Those annual payments to Canada, ranging from $250 million to $350 million, were originally meant as reimbursement for building storage dams. The money comes from the more than 6 million ratepayers—including co-op members—who receive power from Bonneville Power Administration and the Mid-Columbia public utility district.

But the Public Power Council, a coalition of more than 80 Northwest utilities, including 34 co-ops, said the payment formula is outdated and results in overcompensation for Canada. Scott Corwin, PPC executive director, welcomed the news of a renegotiation.

"This is a helpful step that has been long in coming. Now, there needs to be a real timeline with benchmarks that can achieve an actual agreement as soon as possible," said Corwin.

In June, a bipartisan group of House members from Oregon and Washington sent a letter to President Trump stressing the importance of renegotiating the treaty, calling it "an issue of paramount importance to the entire Pacific Northwest region."

Under the 1964 treaty, both the U.S. and Canada have the option of terminating most of the treaty provisions after September 2024 with at least a 10-year advance notice. In 2014, NRECA members passed a resolution supporting a "fair and equitable" Columbia River Treaty.