Conflicts and Crises
Ochoco Reservoir in central Oregon
Introduction
The Natural Flow
Water Pressures
A Changing Climate
The Natural Flow
The management of Oregon's liquid assets involves a complicated network of entities, each with limited authority in overlapping spheres of control. A comprehensive book by Rick Bastasch, Waters of Oregon, contains an ideal illustration of these complex management relationships:
"A Corps of Engineers' dam, storing water in the name of the Bureau of Reclamation under a permit issued by the Water Resources Department, releases water — at a fish-friendly rate requested by the Fish and Wildlife Department — through a turbine generating power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, into a canyon managed as a scenic resource by the state Parks and Recreation Department and U.S. Forest Service, to downstream irrigation districts (operating as political subdivisions of the state), whose leftover irrigation water returns to the river and flows to a city intake for treatment to meet Health Division drinking water standards and is then routed through a county-approved golf course/subdivision to a sewage treatment plant operating in conformance with the Department of Environmental Quality's clean water standards for discharge back into the river which empties into the Columbia (coursing water from seven states and one Canadian province), home to endangered salmon managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, as advised by the Northwest Power Planning Council."
[bold added for emphasis]
In this example, 15 separate agencies are involved in the flow of water, and there are cases that involve even more entities. It would be impractical to list the specific roles and responsibilities of all agencies with a hand in Oregon water management, but the primary forces are briefly described below.
Corps of Engineers (U.S. Army), Portland District
This Corps of Engineers (COE) office administers multi-purpose "projects" (dams, reservoirs and related infrastructure) in order to allow navigation, flood control, shore protection, hydropower, water supply and environmental activities in several Oregon watersheds. The COE built and operates three run-of-river reservoirs on the lower Columbia; 13 storage projects in the Willamette River Basin; two Rogue River Basin projects; and a number of smaller projects throughout Oregon. Oddly, the Portland District of the COE has no projects in the contentious Klamath Basin, which falls under the authority of the San Francisco District.
Bureau of Reclamation, Pacific Northwest Region
The federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) operates some 30 dams and reservoirs in Oregon, not counting related diversion dams. The majority of these dams and reservoirs were developed for irrigation purposes. A handful of BOR dams in Oregon have also been authorized for flood control, power generation and other limited uses. The BOR exists to manage, develop and protect water and related resources on behalf of the federal government.
Water Resources Department
Created in 1975, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) acts at the behest of the state's Water Resources Commission. The commission sets, and the OWRD executes, statewide policies and specific rules for most of Oregon's 18 river basins. Statewide policies include protecting existing water rights; improving efficiency of water use; allocating water only within the capacity of the resource; protecting streamflows needed to support public uses; encouraging the protection of water-related riparian functions; managing groundwater to promote sustainable multiple uses; and allowing new hydroelectric power development only when there will be no harm to salmon and steelhead. In addition, the OWRD has 19 water master districts. Water masters enforce water laws and measure water levels to help determine available supply.
Bonneville Power Administration
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a wholesale provider of federally generated electricity, the majority of which comes from hydropower plants on the Columbia River. The BPA's responsibilities also include development of conservation resources and improvement of fish and wildlife resources in the region.
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Northwest Regional Office
This regional office is organized to conserve, protect and manage Pacific salmon, groundfish, halibut and marine mammals and their habitats under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other laws. NMFS opinions can affect the release and/or storage of water. For example, it was an NMFS opinion about endangered sucker fish that caused water to be withheld from irrigators in the Klamath Basin.
Northwest Power Planning Council
The Northwest Power Planning Council (NWPPC) was created by Congress in 1980 to give Northwest citizens a stronger voice in determining the future of electricity generated at, and fish and wildlife affected by, hydropower dams in the Columbia River Basin. The Council is funded by the BPA, and although it has no control over actual water flow, the agency is charged with developing, and updating, 20-year electric power plans, as well as a fish and wildlife program to protect and rebuild populations affected by hydropower development. The Council also conducts public education and involves the public in decision-making processes. Plans and policies developed by the NWPPC are implemented by numerous agencies including BPA, COE, BOR and others. The Council works closely with state, tribal and local governments, and has emerged as a consensus builder.
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