October 13, 2009 - Bend Bulletin Water Group Sets Its Goals

Oct 13, 2009

October 13, 2009 - Bend Bulletin Water Group Sets Its Goals Water group sets its goals  - Walden supporting Deschutes alliance
By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin

Published: October 13. 2009 4:00AM PST

A group of irrigation districts, tribes, and city and county governments that wants to boost its political clout on water issues in the Deschutes River Basin took the first step toward that goal Monday, when group members discussed their plans for future work.

Members of the Deschutes Water Alliance want to come up with a plan that will prioritize water conservation projects in the basin and help them secure government and private funding. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, attended the group’s Monday meeting and encouraged the alliance to pursue this goal.

“There is a big drive to put money out into shovel-ready projects,” Walden told members of the alliance. “There will be more money coming to do projects, so to the extent to which you are ready to move forward, we are ready and willing to help you.”

Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger, who is leading work to expand the Deschutes Water Alliance, said most of the group’s members have signed an agreement to work toward a water plan specifying future projects, but a few members are still nervous that signing the agreement could compromise their interests.

“These are groups that have not come together in the past to work on stuff together,” Unger said.

Steve Johnson, manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said issues such as the growing population’s demand for water and state water quality rules will only increase in the future, so members need to work together.

“These are starting to become common problems, not just unique problems for a particular jurisdiction,” Johnson said.

The Deschutes Water Alliance has already tackled some of the simpler conservation projects, such as piping irrigation canals to stop water from seeping through the rocks so irrigation districts do not need to divert as much water from the Deschutes River. Now, the alliance faces more complex questions, such as what to do with the water saved through canal piping.

“The difficult part is the more detailed part, how do we actually develop these new water resources,” said Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. “To me, that’s what didn’t get done before, and that’s why we need everyone at the table.”

The alliance’s most visible work is the water bank, which matches buyers and sellers of water rights and is at the heart of a groundwater mitigation program that put an end to a moratorium on new groundwater pumping in the region between 1998 and 2002. The Deschutes River Conservancy oversees the water mitigation bank.

A water plan would lay out the next level of projects, Unger said. For example, the piping of some irrigation canals has freed up water that could now be released from Wickiup Reservoir during the winter, when it is normally stored up for the summer irrigation season. If groups within the alliance come to an agreement, they could release water from the reservoir during the winter to keep stream flows more consistent, cut down on erosion and keep more sediment from building up in Mirror Pond in Bend, Unger said. The city last dredged the pond in 1984, and cost estimates from earlier this year put the cost to remove the sediment that built up since then at $2 million to $5 million.

After expressing his support for the Deschutes Water Alliance, Walden also spoke about health care reform, Central Oregon’s economy and the possibility of another federal stimulus bill.

“I think there’s a high likelihood you’ll have a health care bill enacted by the end of December,” Walden said, adding that deadlines set by Democratic congressional leaders “make some of us nervous about the bill we’ll be called to vote upon.”

Walden said talk of passing another federal economic stimulus bill is “really premature” since the government has not spent the full amount Congress approved earlier this year. Walden blamed the continued high unemployment rates in Central Oregon counties on high state taxes, which he said discourage businesses from locating in the state, federal limits on timber harvests and the housing market collapse.

Asked what Congress can do to boost Central Oregon’s economy, Walden said he wants the Obama administration to use some of the funding approved in the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help small, local banks increase lending. He said so far, the administration has directed financial help to large Wall Street banks, and community bankers have asked him for $3 billion to make more credit available.

Hillary Borrud can be reached at 541-617-7829 or at hborrud@bendbulletin.com.


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