Merkley intros Bowman bill today

November 21, 2013
Merkley intros Bowman bill today

Measure backed by fisherfolk, utilities, local governments

By Andrew Clevenger

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., will reintroduce legislation today that authorizes the release of unallocated water behind Bowman Dam into the Crooked River, helping Prineville ease its water woes.

The Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013, cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would move a Wild and Scenic boundary line from the middle of the dam about a quarter of a mile down the river. This administrative change would open the 240-foot-high dam to hydropower development, which proponents say could bring 50 construction jobs to the area for two years.

It also authorizes the release of 5,100 unallocated acre-feet of water into the Crooked River, and calls upon stakeholders to create a dry year management plan to help decide whether and how much additional water should be released at other times.

“The full potential of the Crooked River and the Prineville Reservoir has beckoned for decades, but a common agreement regarding water has just been out of reach,” Merkley told The Bulletin Wednesday. “It’s exciting to be putting this legislation forward again with the full support of the range of stakeholders.”

Those stakeholders include the city of Prineville, which plans to use the extra water in the river to offset groundwater needed to supply an additional 500 homes in the city. Those homes are currently using shallow wells and septic systems.

Merkley and Wyden introduced similar legislation during the last Congress, but the bill stalled without ever getting a floor vote.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, introduced legislation with many of the same provisions as the Senate version, minus the authorization to release additional water beyond the 5,100 acre-feet, during the last Congress. He reintroduced his bill again this year without changes; the House of Representatives passed it unanimously in October.

At the time, Walden said he was open to amendments to his bill, but it was important to start the legislative process so the bill has the chance to become law before it expires at the end of this session of Congress, the way last year’s efforts did.

Merkley said he plans to work closely with Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill.

“I think we have a great window of opportunity that we should seize,” he said. “With all stakeholders on board, we should have a pretty good chance of moving this quickly. Now, quickly in the Senate doesn’t always mean immediately, but I’ll be working with Sen. Wyden to expedite the process.”

Merkley said his office has been in continuous discussion with stakeholders over how to address their concerns. Conservationists worried that giving irrigators first-fill rights would harm fish in dry years, while flatwater fisherman worried that releasing too much water from behind the dam would hurt recreational activities on the reservoir.

The Bureau of Reclamation estimates 575,000 visitors use the Prineville Reservoir and surrounding area each year, pumping $6.7 million into the region’s economy.

The current bill carefully accounts for the water and takes all of those concerns into account, Merkley said. It provides certainty for irrigators and the ability to release additional water for the salmon, steelhead and trout downstream.

Merkley’s bill has the support of Gov. John Kitzhaber, as well as the city of Prineville, Crook County, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, American Rivers, NW Steelheaders, Ochoco and North Unit Irrigation Districts, Portland General Electric, Trout Unlimited and WaterWatch.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456,

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