2016 Oregon Legislative Roundup

2016 Oregon Legislative Roundup

The short session of the 2016 Oregon State Legislature was not for the faint of heart. With over 250 bills to consider, and Republicans’ dramatic stalling tactics causing disarray, the session quickly became tense – and stayed that way.

The results for rivers were mixed. A handful of non- controversial bills and budget adjustments which benefitted Oregon’s waterways passed into law, but a broadly supported initiative to reform suction dredge mining stalled, while a number of anti-conservation initiatives consumed much of the legislature’s limited time before going down to deserved defeat.

Water Policy Progress

HB 4113: A Governor-appointed task force will evaluate short term measures and tools to alleviate the effects of drought on farms, cities, rivers, and fish. Conservation insterests will have a seat on this task force.

SB 1529: Prohibits homeowners associations from enforcing residential lawn and landscape watering requirements in the face of drought declarations or municipal orders for conservation. WaterWatch favored a more comprehensive bill, HB 4090, which would have prohibited homeowners associations from requiring the watering of lawns, but this bill did not pass. However, SB 1529 is a step toward helping municipalities and residential water users cope with drought.

Alan Kenaga/Capitol Press

Harney County Groundwater Study: The legislature approved approximately $700,000 in emergency funding to support a groundwater study in Harney County, where the Water Resources Department has observed significant declines in groundwater levels in recent years. Because of concerns raised by WaterWatch over unsustainable groundwater use, the Water Resources Department has imposed limits on the granting of new groundwater permits and is undertaking a groundwater study in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Missed Opportunity

In 2013, WaterWatch and our allies helped pass SB 383, which reduced the harm of suction dredge mining in Oregon’s rivers. This law included a 5 year moratorium on suction dredging – beginning January 1, 2016 – in waterways with designated Essential Salmon Habitat. This session, WaterWatch led a broad coalition of conservationists, anglers, and outdoor businesses seeking to expand the existing moratorium to most of Oregon waterways through HB 1530 and its campanion bill, SB 1530. We also sought to replace the moratorium in 2021 with an agency framework providing lasting protections for salmon, steelhead, bull trout, mussels, and lamprey.

However, because of unrelated, highly partisan controversies, the legislature’s Democratic leadership decided to let this broadly-supported bill die. This means the current temporary moratorium remians. We will continue to seek long term protections against suction dredging in future sessions.

Wins on Defense

SB 1584: This designated Oregon Conservation Network Major Threat would have overturned a WaterWatch win before the Oregon Court of Appeals and exempted more than 60 cities and an unknown volume of their water diversions from fish persistence reviews. These reviews allow for water permit conditions necessary to ensure the persistence of struggling populations of salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout, and lamprey. The bill would have also removed the requirement for some cities to adopt common sense Water Management and Conservation Plans. In a highly unusual move, Senate Democratic leadership brought SB 1584 to the floor despite opposition from the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Rosenbaum. After a brief hearing with less than 24 hours of public notice, the Rules Committee voted 4-1 in support of the bill. Chair Rosenbaum and Sen. Prozanski then led opposition to the bill in a spirited floor debate, and eight other Democrats joined with them. However, eight Democrats sided with their leadership and Senate Republicans, giving SB 1584 enough support to pass the Senate. Thankfully, the bill did not advance further because House Democratic leaders held firm against the bill.

HB 4137: Representative Whitsett tried but failed to advance yet another bill to curb the Water Resources Department’s ability to regulate junior groundwater right holders in favor of senior surface water right holders.

The former Fielder Dam. Note fish ladder entrance faced upstream, making it more difficult for salmon and steelhead to find the way. Photo by River Design Group

HB 4012A: This defeated bill would have provided a state taxpayer bailout of a Josephine County decision – belatedly reversed – to fund an unnecessary and unjustifiably expensive water quality monitoring contract. The county commissioners relied on misinformation regarding the water quality impacts of the removal of Fielder Dam – one of Oregon’s top-ranked fish passage barriers on a key salmon Rogue River spawning tributary – which was removed in 2015 through the efforts of WaterWatch. Local outcry over the waste of limited public resources caused the commisioners to reverse course and cancel the contract, but not before the contractor billed Josephine County for $77,000.

Thank you!

Our sincere thanks to all of WaterWatch’s supporters who responded to calls for action by writing, calling, and traveling to Salem to speak up for Oregon’s rivers!