Water-management bills debated
Proposed cuts to key department dampen discussion and plans
Environmentalists to water providers debated the future of water in Oregon last week during public hearings, work sessions and budget talks.
Looming over every water conversation were proposed 30 percent cuts to the Water Resources Department, which measures stream flows, manages water rights and protects in-stream water levels. The cuts would mean losing 45 of the department’s 147 employees. The department might be one of the hardest hit because it relies on the general fund, which makes up nearly 75 percent of its budget.
John DeVoe with WaterWatch of Oregon questioned the department’s ability to function under the proposed cuts.
“This is not the direction we want to go as the state faces climate change, economic challenges and population growth.”
The proposed cuts overshadowed the water bills making their way through the Capitol last week.
-Two water management bills, SB 193 and SB 194, passed out of committee and will head to a Senate vote. The first bill would require the state to develop a comprehensive plan to manage water as supplies shrink due to growing populations and possible impacts of climate change. The second bill would require a state strategic measurement plan and an advisory committee on water use measurement.
The Senate committee on Environment and Natural Resources also heard public testimony on three water bills.
-SB 740 would add an annual fee of $50 per water right up to $300 for individuals and up to $1,200 for larger entities as a way to help pay for services and fund the Water Resources Department. At the public hearing Thursday no one questioned the department’s need for money, but some wondered if the fee was fair.
DeVoe challenged those who opposed the bill to come up with their own plan, and many accepted the call promising future proposals.
The remaining two bills were designed to conserve water resources.
-SB 787 would require water providers and agriculture water users to prove they follow water conservation practices before receiving public funds for water projects. Some expressed concern during the hearing that the bill would change existing requirements, which would mean costly rewrites without a net water savings.
-SB 788 would require all water diversion projects to contain provisions to protect peak water flows. Several testified on the importance of protecting peak flows for river health and habitat while others worried the law would hamstring winter water storage projects.