Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Tuesday an agreement on water allocation from Central Oregon's Crooked River between a broad coalition of stakeholders in the region.
Legislation will be introduced later this week by Senator Merkley with Senator Wyden joining as a co-sponsor, the senators said.
“This bill ends 40 years of fighting and paralysis over water in the Prineville Reservoir. This is historic and a great opportunity for economic growth in the Crooked River region,” said Senator Merkley.
“I thank all the stakeholders for their unflagging efforts to develop this agreement. This bill provides many benefits: the city of Prineville will have access to additional water that’s critical to support new industries; local farmers and ranchers will get more secure and expanded access to irrigation water; and additional water would be available to support fish and wildlife, including the world-class fly fishery and newly reintroduced steelhead.
"On top of all that, Oregon continues its leadership in clean renewable energy by taking a step toward new hydropower production on the Crooked River," Merkley said. " I look forward to working with all the partners in Central Oregon to get this done.”
“This legislation is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. I especially want to recognize Senator Merkley, who has been tireless in building consensus among all the parties involved in this issue," Wyden said.
"The result represents the best Oregon tradition of working together to find a solution to the competing demands for water in the Crooked River,” he added.. “This bill will provide certainty for the city of Prineville, the irrigation districts, the Warm Springs Tribes, and conservation interests that their primary needs will be addressed in good water years and bad.
"There is now a path forward that leads to both economic growth for the community and the protection of fish and wildlife,” Wyden added.
“The Crooked River basin is one of Oregon’s truly special places, and its water is central to the health of its people and environment,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “This legislation not only represents a victory for the basin’s economy, communities, fish, wildlife and native people, but also for Oregonians across the state.
"I am grateful for the hard work and leadership of a lot of committed stakeholders who have demonstrated Oregon’s ability to find common ground that incorporates our environmental, economic, and cultural values.”
The legislation announced Tuesday will provide numerous benefits to water users and the Central Oregon region, by:
• Providing the city of Prineville with a dependable supply of water to support growth into the foreseeable future;
• Ensuring a reliable supply of water to farmers who use water from Prineville Reservoir and McKay Creek for irrigation;
• Enhancing the ability to manage water flows in the Crooked River to improve habitat for the benefit of fish, and improving fish habitat in McKay Creek;
• Providing the ability to install a hydroelectric turbine on Bowman Dam.
The following groups were engaged in the negotiations and endorse the legislation:
“Senators Merkley and Wyden brought together all sides to find a solution that strikes a balance for water users and the environment while improving conditions for the fish and wildlife that rely on the Wild and Scenic Crooked River,” said Brett Swift with American Rivers.
City of Prineville
“This legislative agreement on the Crooked River is welcome news for Prineville,” said Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe. “It ensures our residents as well as our local farmers, businesses, and new businesses like Apple and Facebook, will have a secure water supply for the future. We’re also pleased with the restoration measures to improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Crooked River.”
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
"The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs strongly support Senators Merkley and Wyden's legislation, which is a landmark victory for both farmers and fish,” said Warm Springs Chief Delvis Heath. “By adding more water to the Crooked River for fish, this legislation will boost the health and resilience of salmon and steelhead in the Crooked River and the entire Deschutes Basin. We believe this is a new model for approaching western water issues literally from the ground up. The Confederated Tribes sincerely thank Senators Merkley and Wyden, and their staff, for months of dedicated work with local stakeholders. "
“Our Governor, and two Senators, deserve credit for legislation that guarantees Crook County and our entire region has the necessary water to meet societal needs and for businesses, including our dynamic agricultural sector, to make capital investments, to sustain and create jobs, and benefit all of Central Oregon,” said Mike McCabe, Crook County Judge and Commissioner.
Deschutes Basin Board of Control (Representing all 7 major irrigation districts in Central Oregon)
“I want to recognize the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric Company for their commitment and leadership in this agreement,” said Steve Johnson, President, Deschutes Basin Board of Control. “All of us appreciate their work for an imaginative and sustainable agreement.”
Ochoco Irrigation District
“I commend Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Governor Kitzhaber, for taking a strong position in support of farmers and ranchers who rely upon the Crooked River to responsibly grow crops and raise livestock,” said Brian Barney, Chairman, Ochoco Irrigation District Board of Directors. “The Crooked River is a real part of our heritage, and we’re proud to work alongside all of them to improve it.”
Portland General Electric
“PGE strongly supports this effort to open Bowman Dam to hydropower development, which would provide Oregonians with a new source of clean, renewable electricity, as well as near-term job opportunities,” said Dave Robertson, PGE vice president of public policy. “We commend Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for introducing this legislation and for the work of the Governor and many stakeholders involved in coming to this agreement.”
"Trout Unlimited strongly supports this bill, which encourages pragmatic, creative solutions and partnerships to help support Crooked River fisheries including steelhead,” Kate Miller of Trout Unlimited. “This bill provides a framework for how diverse interests—from tribes to irrigators to conservation groups and municipalities—can work together to meet our water needs while enhancing and restoring this amazing river. We all have a stake in preserving the health of the Crooked River, which sustains our quality of life as well as our local economies. This bill provides a shared vision for getting that done. ”
"This legislation provides significant improvements for fish and river habitat in the beloved Crooked River, and we are very happy that our Senators provided the leadership to strike a balance between many interests," said Kimberley Priestley, Senior Policy Analyst for WaterWatch of Oregon. "We look forward to working with all those involved to ensure that the Crooked river, its fish and all who care about the river will reap the full benefits of this bill."