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Columbia Water Tops Priorities

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, December 8, 2011

More withdrawals could boost Oregon's economy, farm manger tells board

PENDLETON, Ore. -- Oregon farm and business interests appear to prepping for a new run at Columbia River water withdrawals.

The Oregon Business Council will highlight Columbia River withdrawals at its annual Oregon Leadership Summit, Dec. 12 in Portland.

And the topic was a recurring theme in a "local issues panel" at the Dec. 6 State Board of Agriculture meeting in Pendleton.

Board of Agriculture member Bob Levy said he has seen a renewed interest in the efforts.

"We're thankful Oregon Business Council has made Columbia River water withdrawals a priority issue," Levy said. "And we're curious to see if the (Kitzhaber) administration makes this a priority."

Proponents say additional water from the river is a way to expand agriculture and Eastern Oregon's economy.

"There is some good momentum," Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba said.

It's important to keep the ball rolling, Coba said, but, she added, there are "big hurdles ahead."

In the local issues panel, Marty Myers, general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, said increasing water withdrawals to the area's agriculture could provide a significant boost to the state economy, and have little impact on natural resources.

Adding 500,000 acre-feet of withdrawals, he said, could add $2.4 billion to the region's economic activity.

"I believe this basin is an untapped resource that we could expand on with very little impact on our natural resources," Myers said.

Myers said international companies have expressed interest in locating 60,000 to 100,000 milking-cow dairies in the Hermiston-Boardman area if they can get water.

Methane digesters could provide enough electricity to pump the additional 500,000 acre-feet of water from the Columbia to area farms, he said, and provide additional electricity for area homes and businesses.

"It's here. It's available. It's just untapped," Myers said of the Columbia River water.

Efforts to increase Columbia River summer water withdrawals failed in the 2007 Oregon legislative session after a bill calling for the increase passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Then Gov. Ted Kulongoski sent Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, a letter in the final days of the session saying he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.

Mitch Lies
Columbia Water Tops Priorities
Capital Press, December 8, 2011

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