The Bowman Dam bill introduced by Oregon’s Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden is for the most part a crowd pleaser.
Prineville would get access to more water. Farmers and fish would also get more. And it would allow the installation of a hydroelectric turbine on Bowman Dam.
Those things are all fairly straightforward in the bill. But when it comes to other details, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, pointed out some important issues to us that need to be clarified.
The bill’s purpose is twofold.
First, it fixes what is considered a mistaken boundary line. Bowman Dam — an earthen, man-made dam — was included in 1993 in the Crooked River’s wild and scenic designation. Of course, there’s nothing wild and scenic about it. What’s important is that with such a designation, no hydro could be built. The bill moves the boundary.
Second, the bill clarifies how water from the Crooked River can be used. It makes available more water behind the dam so Prineville can get access to more groundwater. It has assurances for irrigators.
What’s unclear is what happens to the remaining water in Prineville Reservoir and who decides.
The bill mentions that the government “shall store in and release from Prineville Reservoir all remaining stored water quantities for the benefit of downstream wildlife and fish." Does that mean Prineville Reservoir could be allowed to mostly dry up?
The Commissioner of Reclamation is also to set the release schedules for water consistent with the guidance from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the state of Oregon. What if the tribes and the state disagree?
We applaud the work that Walden, Merkley and Wyden have all put into this issue. We hope that in the short time remaining, the concerns can be clarified and the bill can be passed.