Who needs the water more?
The debate in Central Oregon has been going on for decades.
Now one issue in Prineville is before the U.S. Congress for the second time.
Prineville Mayor Bette Roppe says the city needs more water to grow their economy and get residents off shallow wells near septic systems.
She says there is plenty of it behind the Bowman Dam.
For the last four years, she’s been working with government agencies, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and environmental groups trying to come up with a solution.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., brought the issue back before the House Tuesday. “The city of Prineville right now is constricted — they don’t have enough water,” Walden said on the House floor.
The bill he proposed, and which won unanimous House support again, would move the ‘Wild and Scenic River’ designation on the Crooked River downstream of the Bowman Dam.
In 2012, a similar bill passed the House but died in the Senate, simply because there wasn’t enough time to bring it to a vote. This time around, those involved are confident it will pass.
“We feel like it is a win-win for everybody, and I’m just really pleased that it is here,” Roppe said.
The legislation would allow for a small hydropower plant, allow the city to buy more water, and help restore fish runs to the Crooked River and surrounding creeks.
But Tom Davis, a long-time advocate of the Crooked River fishery habitat, is not completely sold on Walden’s bill. “There is a lot of water coming out of Bowman that is not as efficiently applied as it could be,” Davis said. He says he wants to see more in the way of water conservation, and more done for fish in the river.
“I don’t think Representative Walden’s bill does anything at all for fish,” Davis said. His hope is for revisions in the Senate by Oregon Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.
Another big driver behind the bill: Prineville’s economy. During the recession, the city took a major hit and has been slow to recover. Over the last few years, the city has been able to attract data centers built by Apple and Facebook, and city leaders hope to keep building on that.
“New businesses coming in, we have to be able to assure them that we have the water they need for their business,” Roppe said.
She added that the city has really grasped being good stewards to the environment in the process.
“We have been very proactive, trying to be responsible for accepting and welcoming the steelhead to our river,” Roppe said. The bill is now in the Senate, where we’re told more negotiations are underway.
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