Socio-hydrological modeling of the tradeoff between flood control and hydropower provided by the Columbia River Treaty

Ashish Shrestha, Felipe Augusto Arguello Souza, Samuel Park, Charlotte Cherry, Margaret Garcia, David J. Yu, Eduardo Mario Mendiondo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) signed between the United States and Canada in 1961 is known as one of the most successful transboundary water treaties. Under continued cooperation, both countries equitably share collective responsibilities of reservoir operations and flood control and hydropower benefits from treaty dams. As the balance of benefits is the key factor of cooperation, future cooperation could be challenged by external social and environmental factors which were not originally anticipated or change in the social preferences of the two actors. To understand the robustness of cooperation dynamics, we address two research questions. (i) How does social and environmental change influence cooperation dynamics? (ii) How do social preferences influence the probability of cooperation for both actors? We analyzed infrastructural, hydrological, economic, social, and environmental data to inform the development of a socio-hydrological system dynamics model. The model simulates the dynamics of flood control and hydropower benefit sharing as a function of the probability to cooperate, which in turn is affected by the share of benefits. The model is used to evaluate scenarios that represent environmental and institutional change and changes in political characteristics based on social preferences. Our findings show that stronger institutional capacity ensures equitable sharing of benefits over the long term. Under the current CRT, the utility of cooperation is always higher for Canada than non-cooperation, which is in contrast to the United States. The probability to cooperate for each country is lowest when they are self-interested but fluctuates in other social preference scenarios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4893-4917
Number of pages25
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 6 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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