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Economic and dam related articles

Columbia River Water Bill Still Alive

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, February 16, 2012

Amendments shrink amount, timing of withdrawals

SALEM -- A bill aimed at increasing irrigation water withdrawals from the Columbia River is still alive, but faces an uncertain future in the Oregon Legislature. The House Energy, Environment and Water Committee moved House Bill 4101 to the House Rules Committee on Feb. 14, just under the deadline for moving certain bills from their committees of origin.

The bill directs the Oregon Water Resources Department "to aggressively pursue the development of Columbia River Basin water resources to benefit both in-stream flows and out-of-stream water needs."

HB4101 also creates a task force to develop recommendations for new allocations of water.

The bill has been scaled back from a proposed 450,000 acre-feet of new water withdrawal to 100,000 acre-feet, with most of the water dedicated to irrigation.

(bluefish makes a comparison: The Lower Snake River reservoirs lose approximately 100,000 acre-feet of water to evaporation in a typical year. See
One hundred-thousand acre feet is enough to irrigate 30,000 acres, bill supporters said.

Also, other than allowing for summer withdrawals under mitigating circumstances, it now limits withdrawals to winter, or high-flow months.

The bill drew support from several agricultural and business organizations who relished the jobs more water could bring.

Bill Kluting of the Carpenters Industrial Council, said the bill could bring thousands of jobs to Oregon at a time when the state desperately needs jobs.

The bill drew opposition from several conservation organizations, which weren't comfortable with its potential for increased summer withdrawals and the potential harm those withdrawals on endangered salmon runs.

"If we are truly talking about winter water, I want to make that clear that we don't need a bill," said John DeVoe, executive director of the conservation group WaterWatch.

"Winter water is available many months of the year on the Columbia," DeVoe said.

"This bill ... would allow the use of summer time waters from the Columbia, and that would be contrary to existing state policy in many areas," he said.

Several said the bill is too controversial to be taken up in a short session.

But, Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said he believes the state can't afford to wait to create jobs.

"I wanted to do something that would bring a balanced approach to try to get jobs going," McLane said.

"If we can't do it," he said, "then at least we can look at ourselves and go home and look at our constituents and say we did everything we could to try to produce an environment for more jobs in Oregon."

Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the bill would be a boon to Umatilla Basin farmers, many of whom have been shut off from water rights because of the basin's declining aquifers.

"That creates on-farm jobs, processing jobs and traded-sector jobs," Fast said.

In the end, the committee moved the bill with no recommendation.

Mitch Lies
Columbia River Water Bill Still Alive
Capital Press, February 16, 2012

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