2018 Oregon Legislative Round Up

The 2018 short legislative session started with a bang and thankfully, ended quietly, with no water bills advancing that would harm our state’s beloved rivers. Three bills of note included two that targeted the Klamath Basin. The third originated in the Deschutes, but would have harmed rivers statewide.

J.C. Boyle Dam by Jim McCarthy

In the Klamath Basin, a broad coalition of voices including Native American Tribes, commercial fishermen, and conservationists are celebrating the defeat of both SB 1552 and HB 4016. SB 1552 was a poorly disguised attempt to stop longstanding efforts to remove the four lowest Klamath River dams to aid struggling salmon runs. The bill included language that would have abolished the fund collected under state law for this widely supported project before demolition of these outdated structures could even begin. Removal of the four obsolete hydro dams will benefit the many communities which depend upon the Klamath River’s invaluable resources, help fulfill Native American fishing rights throughout the basin, and protect thousands of commercial and recreational salmon fishing jobs.

HB 4016 purported to expand an existing pilot irrigation project. In reality, this bill would have allowed long-unused claims to water that attached to currently un-irrigable lands in the Klamath Project to be moved to irrigable lands. This would have increased water demand in a river basin where water demand already wildly exceeds supply, and regularly sparks disasters. In a corner of the state where salmon and other fish are threatened with extinction, waterfowl regularly die of disease by the tens of thousands due to lack of water on the basin’s National Wildlife Refuges, fishing-dependent Tribal cultures are being denied their right to fish, and downstream commercial fishing families are reeling from Klamath- driven ocean fishing closured, this bill would have helped only one select group of irrigators within the Klamath Project at the expense of all other interests.

Anderson Rose Dam on the Oregon side of the Klamath Project

Finally, WaterWatch worked hard before the 2018 short sessions even started to stop SB 1558, which hid a radically harmful proposal for Oregon’s rivers and streams under the innocuous-sounding title: “Irrigation Storage Efficiency Act.” SB 1558 would have opened the door to the creation of new reservoirs and dams – of any size – on-channel or off-channel, with no state-level environmental review whatsoever. This would have been achieved by creating a loophole in the state’s established water transfer process, and undermining the state’s water permitting process. The results could have been devastating for rivers. Thanks to your support, WaterWatch stopped this misguided bill in its tracks.