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Water funding package passes Legislature

July 3, 2015
On Friday, the Oregon Legislature approved $50 million in funding for water projects that could bring additional Columbia River water to northeast Oregon farms.

Oregon’s budget will include $50 million for water development and efficiency projects in a funding package approved Friday by the Joint Committee on Capital Construction.

That’s good news for northeast Oregon farmers trying to pump more irrigation water from the Columbia River to expand the region’s agricultural economy.

Prior to his resignation in February, former governor John Kitzhaber called for $51.6 million in a statewide water development account to help pay for new water supplies and restoration. Gov. Kate Brown also backed the request after her appointment.

What the committee ultimately approved was $20 million in lottery bonds and $30 million in general obligation bonds to accomplish that goal.

Part of the money could be used for pipes and infrastructure to pump additional Columbia River water onto farms between Hermiston and Boardman, growing high-value crops such as potatoes and onions.

The proposal, crafted by the Northeast Oregon Water Association, has taken months of careful negotiations to make sure they balance conservation interests. Now, state dollars are officially in place to move forward with the project’s first phase.

“The legislature has worked so hard on our region’s behalf, and on behalf of the state of Oregon to provide a pathway for sensible, multi-beneficial water development efforts to move forward,” said Bob Levy, a longtime Hermiston farmer and secretary of NOWA.

Out of more than 300 requests to the Capital Construction committee, only 95 were recommended for funding, according to Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena. With bipartisan support from Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Hansell sent a letter March 9 to the committee’s co-chairs urging support for water development and, in particular, the NOWA proposal.

While grants will be awarded competitively to projects throughout the state, Hansell said NOWA appears to have a substantial head start with the foundation they’ve already laid.

“From the beginning of my time in the legislature, this has been a top priority of mine,” Hansell said. “Nothing comes close to the prospects for what additional, sustainable water development means for our local region’s economy.”

If successful, future phases of the NOWA project could build out infrastructure even further and tab other work to fully mitigate impacts to fish and wildlife habitat.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said funding in the form of general obligation bonds is the mechanism that will help get this and other water projects finally off the ground.

“A lot of folks have worked hard on this,” Smith said. “It will be great for the region.”

NOWA Chairman Craig Reeder, of Hale Farms, thanked Hansell and Dembrow for their support and ability to reach across the aisle.

“When we saw the letter requesting the funding package, we thought we might have a chance,” Reeder said.

There is great bi-partisan interest in sustainable water, Hansell said. By working together, he said the state was able to score a major victory.

“We have been able to do something this session I don’t believe has happened before,” he said. “I believe we will be able to take momentous steps forward with these funds and the water-related policy bills that were passed this session.”


Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

Source:  http://www.eastoregonian.com/eo/local-news/20150703/water-funding-package-passes-legislature

1 comment to Water funding package passes Legislature

  • I am very happy to hear that Oregon has passed this. As many of you may know, Cascade Locks is about to allow Nestle Waters Northwest access to Oxbow Springs. 100 million gallons a year will be bottled at a bottling plant Nestle wants to put in on 25 acres of Cascade Locks industrial complex. The Local Water Alliance opposes this proposal and hopes that future Oregon water resource management will prosper in alignment with the newly passed water funding package. It is our belief that if Cascade Locks could see a broader vision and cooperate with existing, upcoming and newly passed legislature, it would benefit Oregon to position itself to become extremely efficient in water resource management. Eastern Oregon and other drought stricken areas in Oregon could get the water they need, Cascade Locks could get the funding they need and we wouldn’t be partners in the privatization of Oregon’s Water. Cascade Locks says they have all the water in the world and they should be able to do whatever they want with it. But this shows a lack of community awareness and deals with allowing more corporate involvement. Cascade Locks is going through the steps to get a 3 Million plus water infrastructure upgrade. Now would be the perfect opportunity for Cascade Locks to integrate for the betterment of Oregon, not for the Swiss mega-corporation such as Nestle’.

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