Editorial: More water is good for the economy

February 13, 2013
Editorial: More water is good for the economy

Although state Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, hasn’t rushed to reintroduce a measure that would allow more water to be taken from the Columbia River, it’s not because he’s given up on the idea, but because it’s included in the governor’s budget.

The proposal has picked up support in a couple of areas recently.

The state Board of Agriculture sent its biennial report on the state of agriculture in Oregon to the Legislature recently. That report contained good news — farmers and ranchers have seen prices for their crops rise slowly but steadily — though overall the picture it painted wasn’t particularly rosy.

Farmers and ranchers here continue to lag behind their counterparts in all three states that border Oregon, the report says, and water plays a key role in the problem. As an example, while Oregon has more land in farm use than does Idaho, it has fewer acres under irrigation.

All crops, from roses to corn to cattle, rely on water to grow, and the state doesn’t have enough of it. The report calls for better use of what we have, better storage for what’s available and getting more water from the Columbia, among other things.

Meanwhile, a group representing a range of interests in the Umatilla Basin has agreed to sign a declaration of cooperation that could make the task of taking more water from the Columbia easier. According to the Capital Press newspaper, representatives of tribes, environmental organizations, water users and municipalities are ready to work together to that end. As part of the agreement, agricultural interests have said they will not push for an increase of summertime water from the river.

Democratic members of the Legislature have said improving rural economies and creating jobs are of key importance this session. We agree. Agriculture will play a key role in both those efforts, and as the governor, the state Board of Agriculture and McLane and other lawmakers from rural Oregon recognize, the need for more water is critical.

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An aerial view of a body of water.