Portland Conference on Ethics, Columbia River Treaty

News Advisory:  October 13

Regional river ethics conference to focus on Portland’s floodplain development, international impacts, modernizing the Columbia River Treaty


  • Steve Kolmes, PhD, University of Portland (503) 943-7291 kolmes@up.edu
  • Jim Heffernan, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (503) 731-1303 hefj@critfc.org
  • John Osborn MD, Ethics & Treaty Project (509) 939-1290 john@waterplanet.ws


  • When: October 24, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Where: University of Portland – Buckley Center Auditorium
  • Cost: Free and open to the public
  • RSVP: Belgin Inan inanb@up.edu  503.943-8342
  • RSVP deadline: October 16


One month after Pope Francis spoke to Congress, the people of the Portland region are invited to join in a discussion about ethics and the future of the Columbia River Treaty that governs water management in the river basin. The conference will open with comments from Bishop William Skylstad on the Columbia River Pastoral Letter and Leotis McCormack (Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission) on indigenous people, salmon, and the river. Next, tribal elders and others impacted directly by the dam-building era will describe epic losses suffered in the Columbia Basin.  The conference will conclude with a panel discussion about the important opportunity to modernize the Columbia River Treaty through upcoming negotiations between Canada and the United States.

Portland’s conference location is near the site of the 1948 Vanport Flood. While power development objectives initiated discussion with Canada in 1944 about a water treaty, the Vanport Flood accelerated the technical studies that led to the Columbia River Treaty. Edward Washington survived the Vanport flood and will recall what happened to his family and community on that terrible day. Crystal Spicer, from interior British Columbia, will describe the Treaty dams’ impacts on her family, neighbors, and the Upper Columbia, including the forced relocation of 2,300 people from family and ancestral lands that were flooded under the Treaty. The conference will explore various measures that can be used to right historic wrongs resulting from the dam-building era such as restoring salmon to historical spawning areas now blocked by dams, and improving floodplain management in the face of climate change.

Modeled on South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” public meetings, the “One River, Ethics Matter” conference series explores the moral dimensions and impacts of the dam-building era with a focus on tribes, First Nations, salmon and the river. Gonzaga University hosted the first conference in Spokane in May 2014, where religious leaders issued the Declaration on Ethics & Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty. The October 24th conference is the second conference in the series and focuses on flood risk management, climate change, justice, and stewardship.

International water conflicts are a growing global risk in the face of climate change.  “One River, Ethics Matter” uses the Columbia River Pastoral Letter and builds upon the tools used by international water forums to help establish a water ethic as a foundation for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.


Hosted by the University of Portland



McNerney-Hanson Chair in Ethics  *  Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission  *  Columbia Basin Revitalization Coalition  *  Environmental Studies Department, University of Portland  *  Okanagan Nation Alliance  *  Upper Columbia United Tribes  *  Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon  *  Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation  *  Pacific Rivers Council  *  WaterWatch of Oregon  *  Citizens for a Clean Columbia  *  Columbia Riverkeeper  *  Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society  *  Sweo Chair in Engineering  *  Center for Environmental Law & Policy  *  The Roskelley Family  *  Molter Chair in Science   *  Save Our Wild Salmon  *  Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture  *  Columbia Institute for Water Policy  *  Loo Wit Group, Sierra Club  *  Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Washington State Chapter  *  ATRIA  *  Francis Maltby  *  Oregon Chapter, Sierra Club  *  Oregon Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America