Editorial: Support Walden's Bowman Dam bill

July 18, 2012
Editorial: Support Walden's Bowman Dam bill

The clock is ticking for Crook County’s Bowman Dam and those who hopeto pass a bill to move a line wrongly drawn through its center yearsago. The Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act, sponsored by Rep.Greg Walden, R-Hood River, made it through the U.S. House ofRepresentatives, but a Senate version of the bill cannot pass withoutchanges, officials say.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is working onthose changes now. He understands the difficulty of starting fromscratch if the bill is not approved this year, but negotiations amongthe various groups interested in the bill take time.

Walden’sversion of the bill does a couple of things. Most importantly, it movesthe line marking the start of the wild and scenic portion of the CrookedRiver from the center of the dam a quarter of a mile downstream. Theboundary was placed in the dam by mistake when the river was designatedwild and scenic in 1988, according to officials at the federal Bureau ofLand Management.

A second change would allow the city ofPrineville to pump more groundwater for city use because it wouldincrease stream flow in the river by seven cubic feet per second.Prineville cannot add new wells without replacing what water it takes,and the additional streamflow would do that.

Walden’s version ofthe bill is unacceptable to the Democratically controlled Senate,however, in part because it gives irrigators an absolute right to firstclaim on the water behind the dam. Environmentalists and fishermen, inparticular, worry that would mean no additional instream flows duringdrought years. They want a portion of what is stored behind the dam setaside for fish and wildlife.

Juggling the different interests inthe river and the water in it is no easy task, as you might imagine. Yetwithout some agreement ahead of time, no version of Walden’s bill canmake it through the Senate.

Even in an election year, it isn’tnail-biting time yet. Merkley understands the need for speed — Oregon’sother senator, Ron Wyden, no doubt does, too — and is moving as quicklyas possible.

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