A story in The Oregonian [15 April 2017] by Andrew Theen announced that a bill [HB 2707] to provide $8.2M to the Oregon Water Resources Department to fund groundwater basin studies passed a key hurdle: it vas voted out of the Oregon House Committee On Energy and Environment.
The bill next goes to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and must be approved by the full House of Representatives and the Oregon Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law. But it's least it is out of one committee and likely has a reasonable chance if becoming law.
Less certain are the fates of two other bills: one (HB 2705) to meter the discharge from large irrigation and other wells (exempt or household wells are excluded) and another (HB 2706) that would impose an annual management fee on water rights holders.
HB 2705 did move out of the Energy and Environment committee and to the Rules Committee; HB 2706 will be further discussed by the Energy and Energy Committee.
Some snippets from Theen's story:
The House Committee on Energy and the Environment in Wednesday endorsed House Bill 2707, which some lawmakers say would dramatically accelerate the state's ability to analyze its groundwater supply. That legislation now heads to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, the state's budget writing body.
"This is something that should have been done years ago," Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said of the general fund request before supporting a plan to move the bill out of the committee. The Eastern Oregon Republican said the bill was in "everyone's interest" and that water research should come out of the general fund – the largest discretionary pot of cash, which is funded by income taxes and businesses.
The bipartisan endorsement marked a significant step forward for one of three water bills introduced by Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton.
I met Rep. Bentz shortly after I moved to Oregon in 2006. Someone told me he was one the legislature's best when it came to water issues. I recall having a long chat with him in 2007 or thereabouts and was impressed. A good guy.
More from the story:
The inability to quantify the underground water supply is a significant issue as the population continues to grow, and demand with it. Forecasters say Oregon's cities, businesses and agricultural industry will need an additional 424 billion gallons of water by 2950. [My note: this is 1.3 million acre-feet or about 40,000 acre-feet per year.] The state has 110,000 miles of rivers and streams, 1,400 named lakes and an underground network of connected reservoirs that provide water for millions of people.
Oregon has studied just one-third of its basins, and the department doesn't have a centralized database to share resources, auditors said, and the water resources agency's 160 employees often were unable to "perform meaningful and in-depth analyses" of the underground reservoirs.
Fun with figures!
But Bentz, a powerful voice in rural Oregon politics, said he wanted it understood that he would
"never support" the mandatory measurement bill [HB 2705] as it was currently written.A work group consisting of water rights and agricultural interests is still tinkering with that legislation.
Not sure what issues Rep. Bentz has with HB 2705 but it's ludicrous to expect that we can quantify our groundwater basins without knowing how much groundwater is being pumped.
Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, voted against both bills discussed in the committee this week.
"We feel like these bills are being jammed down our throats, rural Oregonians, whether we want them or not," he said.
He described the proposals as "agenda politics."
"We have urban Oregonians who want to know something, and they're going to make rural Oregonians pay for it," he said.
Yes, the distinguished Rep. Reschke has it right - it is 'agenda politics' - the agenda is to quantify how much groundwater Oregon has and how best to steward it. You cannot do those tasks without measuring how much is being used and spending money. I wonder if Rep. Reschke realizes that Oregon's water belongs to its citizens, not to the individuals who divert it. A water right means that one has a right to use water, not a right to own it. Big difference! He also implies that rural Oregonians don't want to know how much groundwater is being pumped.
Let me add that in discussions involving water stewardship all types of Oregonians should be involved. We are all stakeholders; if the agricultural economy tanks, we all suffer, some far more than others.
FYI: Thanks to Lisa Brown of Water Watch for alerting me to the water bills. I am currently working with the residents of Harney Valley, one of the basins that OWRD and the USGS are studying. Here's a recent post of a 5 April 2017 meeting. Here are The Oregonian's series, Draining Oregon, and my assessment of it.
“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming