Editorial: Support Walden's Bowman Dam bill

Jul 18, 2012

Bend Bulletin

Editorial: Support Walden's Bowman Dam bill

The clock is ticking for Crook County’s Bowman Dam and those who hope to pass a bill to move a line wrongly drawn through its center years ago. The Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act, sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, made it through the U.S. House of Representatives, but a Senate version of the bill cannot pass without changes, officials say.

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

Walden’s version of the bill does a couple of things. Most importantly, it moves the line marking the start of the wild and scenic portion of the Crooked River from the center of the dam a quarter of a mile downstream. The boundary was placed in the dam by mistake when the river was designated wild and scenic in 1988, according to officials at the federal Bureau of Land Management.

A second change would allow the city of Prineville to pump more groundwater for city use because it would increase 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 of the bill is unacceptable to the Democratically controlled Senate, however, in part because it gives irrigators an absolute right to first claim on the water behind the dam. Environmentalists and fishermen, in particular, worry that would mean no additional instream flows during drought years. They want a portion of what is stored behind the dam set aside for fish and wildlife.

Juggling the different interests in the river and the water in it is no easy task, as you might imagine. Yet without some agreement ahead of time, no version of Walden’s bill can make it through the Senate.

Even in an election year, it isn’t nail-biting time yet. Merkley understands the need for speed — Oregon’s other senator, Ron Wyden, no doubt does, too — and is moving as quickly as possible.

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