College of Law

Administration Office: 208-885-2255
Dean’s Office: 208-885-4977
fax: 208-885-5709
Menard 101
711 S. Rayburn Drive

Mailing Address:
College of Law
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321


phone: 208-364-4074
fax: 208-334-2176
322 E. Front St., Suite 590
Boise, ID 83702

Symposium Background

Symposium Theme:
How do we design and implement governance of international watercourses in the face of uncertainty?

Focus: The Columbia River Treaty Renegotiation 2014-2024


Political boundaries are drawn without consideration of river basin boundaries. The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database shows that over 200 surface water resources cross international boundaries. These water resources serve 40% of the global population (Wolf 1999). Over the next decade, several contributing factors could trigger rapid change and social and economic instability in these international watersheds, placing greater demands on competing water interests. These contributing factors include: climate change; continued regional population growth; a threatened and deteriorating ecosystem; demand for nonfossil fuel energy; and deteriorating infrastructure. These factors challenge traditional approaches to governance of transboundary water resources: approaches that rely on the certainty that historic data concerning water supply, demand, and ecosystem health can be used to predict the future.

The first University of Idaho College of Law Natural Resources and Environment Symposium will focus on the issues of transboundary water governance in the face of uncertainty. To ground discussion in reality, the natural laboratory of the Columbia Basin, shared by the United States and Canada, will serve as a focal point for discussion. Approximately thirty researchers representing multiple disciplines and familiar with a variety of international water basins will be gathered in the Pacific Northwest to share their knowledge and collectively apply it to the Columbia Basin.

The Columbia Basin

Future predictions indicate that in the U.S. and Canada, water demands in the Columbia Basin will increasingly exceed water availability (General Service Foundation, 2005). These water demands include those of agriculture, municipalities, industry, hydro-power generation, fish habitat and fish passage, and recreational uses. The gap between supply and demand is fueled by the fact that current approaches to water resources management do not adequately address the inherent challenges posed by the complex water demands of the region. Failure to address management will continue to degrade a basin’s integrity, cause social harm, impact the economy of the region (Everard, 2003), and ultimately could result in unsustainability of the water resources in the Columbia River Basin.

Development of a comprehensive approach to bring research informed by stakeholder input to bear on the environmental issues of importance to both the United States and Canada is underway, involving the land grant universities of each state and province in the basin: Oregon State University, Washington State University, University of Idaho, the University of Montana, and the University of British Columbia. A core team of researchers, one from each of these universities, will facilitate discussion at the symposium with the goal of identifying research needs. Rather than single-interest, single-discipline approaches, the emphasis will be on regional land and water management that integrates sustainable agriculture, a healthy environment, the regional economy, sustainable rural and urban communities, industries (Keeney and Alexander, 1997), indigenous concerns, and an array of other interests.

A pivotal factor in this effort will be the renegotiation of the U.S.-Canada Columbia Treaty in 2014, which provides a unique opportunity to comprehensively address the concerns of the basin. Many of these concerns were not on the table in the original treaty in 1964. Under the auspices of the renegotiation of the treaty, we have a mechanism, and an existing framework, along with a built-in timetable to help drive the process.

Thus, the first University of Idaho College of Law Natural Resource and Environment Symposium will be subtitled: The Columbia Basin Treaty Symposium. The symposium is the initial step in developing a research program that will inform, guide and shape decision making, and even influence policy, in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. The broader interest served will be a greater understanding of how international river basins may respond to growing uncertainty in the future supply, demand, and health of their water resource.

>2009 Natural Resource and Environment Symposium