2017 Oregon Legislative Roundup
The 2017 legislative session ended in early July. It was busy, with 2,829 bills introduced and over 800 passed. Thanks to the help of WaterWatch members we were able to protect funding for critical agency programs, highlight long-term water management reform, defeat a number of misguided water policy bills, and finally pass suction dredge mining reform. (Hooray! Please see below for details on this long-sought goal.) Your voices were critical to this effort.
Some details include:
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Budget
Another statewide budget shortfall meant critical agency programs and positions were on the chopping block. In the end, thanks to the voices of WaterWatch members and others, the Department’s instream flow study work was funded at $250,000 to maintain this important effort at current levels for the next two years. This work is critical to efforts to designate additional instream water rights across the state. Instream water rights protect water instream, on equal footing as rights granted to farms and cities.
Draining Oregon Drives Progress
Three bills requiring measurement of water statewide, instituting a nominal water rights fee to provide stable funding for critical water management services, and boosting funding for much needed groundwater studies did not pass. However, thanks to the momentum created by your comments and support, and the Oregonian’s Landmark 2016 “Draining Oregon” exposé, as well as Representative Ken Helm’s leadership, we were able to advance the measurement and funding bills further than in any previous legislative session. WaterWatch has championed these important water policy reforms for years, and will continue to do so until passage is achieved.
Suction Dredge Mining Reform Becomes Law
This June, Governor Kate Brown signed the Suction Dredge Reform bill into law. Supported by communities throughout Oregon, this law will protect our rivers by making sensitive salmon and lamprey habitat off limits to suction dredge mining. We’ve put in four years of hard work together for this goal. Thanks to all our members who wrote in to support the Suction Dredge Reform bill, as well as all those who provided comments and support over the years of this reform effort. Your comments and support really made a difference. Suction dredge reform, passed with bipartisan support and originally championed by the late Senator Alan Bates, takes a measured approach to protecting our most sensitive rivers and streams from the harmful impacts of suction dredge mining, while allowing mining in areas where it does less harm. WaterWatch is thrilled to see this practice coming to an end in vulnerable river habitats.
Halting Legislative Mischief
As is the case virtually every session, we saw a number of bills attempting to undercut existing river protection laws. Those we defeated with your support included bills to legalize illegal ponds in protected areas, provide loopholes to forfeiture laws, and stifle public involvement in the water right application process.
Major Threats Blunted
Your emails and support helped stop the worst elements HB 2099, which would have rolled back protections for Oregon rivers, salmon, steelhead, and other native fish to reward certain cities’ attempts to game the system with practices deemed unlawful by the Oregon Court of Appeals. The 40 member organizations of the Oregon Conservation Network (OCN) considered HB 2099 a “Major Threat to Oregon’s Environment,” a designation reserved for OCN’s highest level of opposition. In the end, we were able to secure continued protections for a number of rivers, but saw protections reduced in other streams. Going forward, WaterWatch and our allies will continue to promote water conservation and urge cities to meet their water needs without threatening imperiled fish. We can and must do better than needlessly risk our rivers and fish populations.