The U.S. House on Tuesday unanimously passed Rep. Greg Walden’s (R-Ore.) Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act (H.R. 2640), which he said would deliver needed water to Prineville for job creation, pave the way for clean energy at Bowman Dam and give life to important water conservation projects in the region.
“Passing this no-cost job creation plan is just common sense, which is why the House acted quickly to get this done for Central Oregon. The plan will create jobs in Crook County, cut through government tape, help with clean energy generation, and improve water quality for fish and wildlife without costing taxpayers a penny. The clock is ticking, though. I urge the Senate to quickly consider and pass this legislation to finally get this done for Central Oregon,” Walden said.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would fix a boundary line error at Bowman Dam, paving the way for construction of a small scale hydropower facility at the base of the dam. It would also provide job-creating water for the city of Prineville to attract additional projects like Facebook and Apple.
Walden introduced the legislation in July, The bill is identical to last year’s version which passed the House unanimously in June 2012. It was not brought before the Senate for a vote last year.
Background on the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act
Water for job creation in Crook County
The bill allows Prineville to utilize up to 5,100 acre feet of water from Prineville Reservoir, or about 6 percent of the total unallocated water behind the dam (80,000 acre feet). The water certainty would allow Prineville to entice new technology opportunities like Facebook and Apple, and service all of the homes within city limits.
Crook County’s unemployment rate of 12.6 percent is the highest in the state.
Clean energy and new jobs at Bowman Dam
The bill would also clear the way for small-scale hydropower production at the base of Bowman Dam, creating about 50 jobs over the course of two construction seasons.
Legislation is necessary to make this happen because of the way the law is written currently. In 1988, Congress designated 17.8 miles of the Crooked River as part of the “wild and scenic” rivers system, which is charged with preserving rivers with “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
But when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drew up the maps for the new wild and scenic area on the Crooked River after the 1988 designation, they placed one end of the boundary right down the middle of Bowman Dam.
“There is nothing wild and scenic about a dam,” Walden said.
Hydropower is not permitted in wild and scenic areas, so an act of Congress is required to fix the mistake and place the boundary line below the dam, where it should have been all along. Doing so will allow the hydropower project — and the jobs it would create — to go forward.
In a letter sent to Walden in 2008, BLM State Director Ed Shepard said, “The BLM does not believe that it was the intent of Congress to place the wild and scenic river boundary on the center of the dam or to even include the dam, but rather just below the dam and spillway structures.”
McKay Creek restoration and other conservation efforts
Because Prineville accesses its water from ground sources, the 5,100 acre feet of water would be released downstream, providing additional spilled water into the Crooked River that could benefit the blue-ribbon trout fishery below Bowman Dam. The bill also boosts conservation efforts in McKay Creek to enhance fish habitat.