Our View: Water bill looms as accomplishment for ’09 Legislature

Our View: Water bill looms as accomplishment for ’09 Legislature

By Editorial
East Oregonian
July 14, 2009

 

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has yet to sign House Bill 3369, but it looks like he will in the next week or two.

That should be like the sound of running water to a parched pilgrim. It means relief is not far ahead.

House Bill 3369 establishes a $2.5 million Water Development Fund and sets the regulations for borrowing from it. Kulongoski initially allocated the money when he released his budget, so it would be surprising if he vetoed the bill.

The money would provide state funding for water projects in Oregon, including the Umatilla Basin. One of the bill’s sponsors was Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton.

Many agree its approval was among the bigger accomplishments the 2009 Legislature.

HB 3369 worked its way through the House and Senate, beginning in mid-March. After both houses approved the bill, the House speaker signed it July 7 and the Senate president signed it the next day, sending it on to the governor’s office.

Hermiston’s IRZ Consulting recently completed a year-long feasibility study, which also was state funded. IRZ scientists determined an aquifer-recharge project, drawing water from the Columbia River in winter to refill a large aquifer straddling the Umatilla-Morrow county line, could cost as much as $100 million. That’s cheaper than building a new reservoir, believe it or not. But knowing exactly how much water and money we’re really talking about will take further study. It might not cost as much as projected. And that’s precisely what HB 3369 would pay for.

Just as with the smaller feasibility study, the Oregon Water Resources Department will call for bids to find a company to conduct this study.

One of the most exciting things about IRZ’s preliminary study is that CEO Fred Ziari and his team believe the local solution they’ve developed could have global consequences. He says the recharge technology could be used as a model in every water-short region of the world. It’s splendid to think a project developed to help farmers and others in this small region eventually might be implemented to save lives in Third-World countries.

But before that can happen, we’re eager to watch – and report on – the progress of moving winter and spring flows from the massive Columbia River to underground storage and filtration aquifers, where area farmers would be able to draw it out in summer for their irrigation needs. It’s a project that has the potential to not only promote agriculture, but also its related industries, such as ag and irrigation suppliers, food-processing plants, trucking companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the ports of Umatilla and Morrow.

It might take years before the first drop of Columbia River water from this new project is delivered to the County Line aquifer IRZ has identified as the best possible underground reservoir. But it will be worth the wait.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez, Managing Editor Skip Nichols, News Editor Daniel Wattenburger and Senior Reporter Dean Brickey. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.

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