Landmark Agreement Reached on Crooked River Water

July 31, 2012
Landmark Agreement Reached on Crooked River Water

A more than yearlong tug of war over unallocated water behind Bowman that pit irrigation districts and the city of Prineville against environmental groups has resulted in a landmark agreement that allocates more water for farmers, cities and fish.

The agreement, which was announced Tuesday evening, by Sen. Jeff Merkley is the product of months of tight-lipped negotiations between federal ,state, and local officials, as well as several environmental groups, Portland General Electric and the region’s irrigation districts.

In addition to a guaranteed water supply for farmers and newly reintroduced salmon and steelhead, the city of Prineville gets a sizeable chunk of water that it will use off set new groundwater pumping. PG&E and will get a long-sought hydroelectric project at Bowman Dam to supplement its existing generation sources.

The agreement which will serve as the framework for a Senate bill to be introduced this week by Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Or., paves the way for additional development in Prineville, which has recently emerged as a hotbed of the data storage industry having lured Facebook's West Coast server farm with another from Apple in the works. At the same time, a multimillion dollar fish passage project on the lower Deschutes has allowed fisheries managers including the state of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to reintroduce salmon and steelhead to their native waters in the Crooked River basin. It's the first project of its kind and providing adequate water on the Crooked River could be key to its success. Even so, fish will have to get in line behind farmers and the city before they get their cut of the newly freed-up water, one of the largest such supplies in the West thanks to a design modification that double the size of the reservoir shortly prior to construction. It's taken fifty plus years to figure out how to allocate that extra water.

Even with priority given to farms and the city, environmental groups are calling the agreement a win for the river.

While, conservationists aren’t so naive as to think there won’t be pressure on managers to keep reservoir levels at an acceptable height for boaters, there is no specific provision for that.

“As far as the bill goes, it clearly directs that water for fish,” said one person close to the negotiation.

However, the goal is not to drain the reservoir or unduly impact flat water recreation the source said.

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An aerial view of a body of water.