October 3, 2007 - Bend Bulletin Editorial Supports the DRC's Work

October 11, 2007
October 3, 2007 - Bend Bulletin Editorial Supports the DRC's Work

Editorial in The Bulletin
Published: October 03. 2007 5:00AM PST

Loosen holds on river bills
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is right to be worried about federal budget deficits. His way of expressing his concern, however, misses the mark.

Coburn has put holds on a handful of bills that have a direct impact in Central Oregon. While the dollar amounts are small by Uncle Sam’s standards, what they will do is critical to the region. The holds effectively tie up the bills, and getting them relaxed without Coburn’s help is difficult, at best. All involve the Deschutes River in one way or another, and none actually allocates money to be spent.

Rather, a bill that would help the Deschutes River Conservancy allows that conservation group to qualify for federal dollars for river restoration projects. Another would allow the government to spend up to $4 million with the Tumalo Irrigation District on conservation projects, and a third, part of a larger spending bill, would let farmers in Jefferson County’s North Unit Irrigation District to draw water from outside district boundaries. Both the latter two would allow the irrigation districts involved to leave water in the Deschutes, a critical step in assuring that steelhead and other fish can be restored to historic habitat above Pelton and Round Butte dams.

The irrigation districts are well aware of what will happen if they don’t do everything they can now to improve the health of the Deschutes River. With wild fish on their way home, pressure will mount to assure that when they arrive they can survive in the river. In fact, unless the irrigation districts take voluntary action now to improve river quality, they’re almost certain to be forced to do so in the future. And, unfortunately, there’s money available to assist in voluntary efforts, but it generally dries up with those efforts become required by law. No one would describe the irrigation districts in the region as rich, and without financial assistance it’s difficult to see how they’d raise the money to put mandated changes into effect without bankrupting themselves in the process.

If Coburn understands all that, he so far hasn’t let it influence him, and that’s a shame. Senate leaders still say they think they can work with the Oklahoman to resolve the situation. We hope so. Central Oregonians, including ranchers and farmers, want the fish to come home as much as anybody does. They just need a hand to assure that the welcome mat is out when the fish arrive.

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