Balance between farms and fish sought in Oregon water accord
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
Groups are hammering out a water agreement that could see water withdrawal from the Upper Columbia River during the winter stored for summer use irrigating crops.
Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked stakeholders in the Umatilla Basin to hammer out a plan to combat water shortages in the region, with preliminary findings due by December.
The group is working through the Oregon Solutions process at Portland State University. If successful, their work could realize significant gains for business through water storage, but must first address water needs for fish and other conservation causes and honor an 1855 treaty with tribes.
The group — which includes representation from tribes, state and federal agencies and farmers, plus nonprofit groups, electricity generators and the Port of Morrow — will be considering emerging possibilities for water storage in eastern Oregon by pairing with the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. The office recently completed an appraisal of water storage options in Washington and will consider possible partnerships and investments.
Water storage would allow irrigation needs to be met with river water withdrawn during the off-season when flows are high.
“I understand that the Governor wants to know by December, at least, whether we have anything that we can work toward now, especially if it might involve any review by the Legislature or anything that might impact the budget for the state,” said Dennis Doherty, a Umatilla County Commissioner and chair of the Umatilla Basin Commission. Doherty is a co-convener of the Oregon Solutions process with Kitzhaber’s Natural Resource Advisor Richard Whitman.
Kitzhaber told the East Oregonian, “The short term strategy is to build consensus around two or three ideas that can get water, additional water, within the next two or three years, probably looking at water that is already being stored in Washington … and then hopefully build on that success to build a much longer term strategy with Washington and the Bureau of Reclamation to really look at some significant increases in storage capacity regionally.”
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