Bill would give away more Columbia River water

Bill would give away more Columbia River water

By Janie Har
February 05, 2007

Senators introduced a bill on Monday that would allow the private sector to take 500,000 acre-feet of Columbia River water each year for irrigation and other purposes.

Supporters say they need Senate Bill 483 — also called the Oregon Oasis Project — to boost the amount and quality of farmland, spur farmers to plant higher value crops, and to create jobs. The bill would ease demands on diminishing groundwater and set up a $3 million fund to mitigate damage to the river.

The bill may have a shot. Its backers include Sen. Rick Welches, D-Welches, chairman of the Senate business committee that’s officially sponsoring it. Steve Eldridge, the General Manager and CEO of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, leads the Oregon Oasis Project and is working with Portland lobbyist John DiLorenzo to help get other legislators on board.

And, supporters have smartly latched on to one of Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s pet issues this year, saying extra water from the Columbia could help Oregon develop bio-fuels.

John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, says taking water in the spring could harm fish, and that backers are trying to make an end-run around regulations.

“They are asking to pay $3 million for water that couldn’t be restored for less than $70 million,” DeVoe said, “and that’s assuming you could find water to purchase.”

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