Bowman hydro plant bill on clock with Senate

July 16, 2012
Bowman hydro plant bill on clock with Senate

By Joel Aschbrenner / The Bulletin
Published: July 16. 2012 4:00AM PST

A bill that would provide water for Prineville and allow the construction of a $13 million hydroelectric plant at the Bowman Dam below Prineville Reservoir needs to move through the U.S. Senate this year if it’s likely to pass, Crook County and city officials say.

After a conference call with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Thursday, Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester said he is confident the bill will reach the Senate floor this year, possibly in the next month.

The bill, called the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act, passed the House last month, carried by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River. A companion bill must be introduced in the Senate before a new Congress takes over in January or the bill will go back to the drawing board, Forrester said. “My biggest fear, probably, is running out of time and having to start over again,” he said.

And starting over could be costly.

Prineville, Crook County and the Ochoco Irrigation District have each spent about $50,000 this year alone on legal counsel and political consultants for the legislation, Crook County Judge Mike McCabe said.

“That’s a lot of money for a little community like ours,” McCabe said. “That could pay off our library, for example.”

The bill would address several key water issues in Crook County. Notably, it would move the Wild and Scenic River designation on the Crooked River a quarter-mile downstream and would allow Prineville to pump more groundwater.

When an eight-mile stretch of the Crooked River was designated Wild and Scenic in 1988, the upper boundary was set at the center of the Bowman Dam. The placement was counterintuitive and cumbersome, Bureau of Land Management Senior Advisor Robert Quint said last year.

“Clearly the dam and related facilities were never intended to be included within the Wild and Scenic River designation,” he told the House Subcommittee on Water and Power.

Moving the Wild and Scenic River designation downstream would allow Portland General Electric to build a six-megawatt plant just below the dam. Walden’s office has said that project could provide about 50 construction jobs over two years in Crook County, where unemployment hovers around 13.5 percent, the highest in the state.

Additionally, the bill would increase the minimum amount of water released downstream from Bowman Dam by seven cubic feet per second, giving Prineville the right to pump 5,100 acre-feet of groundwater a year for municipal uses. Because groundwater is part of the aquifer that feeds the Crooked River, the city can’t pump more water for homes and businesses without replacing the water in the river.

Prineville engineers have already begun digging test wells in anticipation of the legislation. Additional groundwater would allow the city to annex more homes and provide water for high-tech data centers springing up in the area, Forrester said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2184,

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