Gov. John Kitzhaber brought with him some good news Tuesday, the second day of his tour of Eastern Oregon.
Kitzhaber told the editorial boards of the Hermiston Herald and East Oregonian that more water may soon be on the way for the area’s agricultural lands.
Kitzhaber said his office met with a variety of representatives from the area, including agricultural leaders, tribal representatives and civic leaders, and is ready to make the task of making more Columbia River water available for irrigation in the next two to three years. The Columbia River Watter Supply Program will become part of the Oregon Solutions Project, and will work in collaboration with Washington state.
Kitzhaber said the short-term approach will likely involve working out an agreement to use water already in storage in Washington reservoirs. That water would be sent down the Columbia, then pulled out in Eastern Oregon for irrigation purposes. That’s a plan that could come to fruition in as soon as 18 months, Kitzhaber said.
That won’t, however, work as a long-term solution. That, Kitzhaber said, would involve working closely with Washington state and the Bureau of Reclamation to study a variety of possibilities.
“The idea is to have two or three different proposals on increasing withdrawal in a way that expands irrigated agriculture but also benefits in-stream users,” the governor said.
One of those possibilities, Kitzhaber said, would be to create new storage facilities in Washington, where the topography is more conducive to storage reservoirs.
“There is excess water,” Kitzhaber said. “The question is, where do you put it?”
Kitzhaber also spent time in Hermiston on Tuesday, his first stop in town since the late 1990s, when the Wal-Mart Distribution Center opened. A wide variety of of civic, business and government leaders attended a noon meeting where first lady Cylvia Hayes took center stage.
Hayes spoke of the goals of the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, a project designed to raise awareness of the issues that go hand-in-hand with poverty — in particular, child hunger.
Oregon, she said, has one of the highest rates of child hunger in the nation.
“Too many Oregonians struggle to make ends meet,” Hayes said. “But what’s talked about less often is the cost on the system.”
The initiative’s target, she said, is to address the problem early, something she said would produce literally billions of dollars in savings. That means better early childhood education and improved health care.
Hayes said child hunger creates a domino effect. Hungry children are more likely to do poorly in school and more likely to need state aid from various sources as they grow older — and also more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
Kitzhaber noted that roughly 70 percent of the jobs in the future will require at least an associate’s degree — and more than half of high school dropouts are currently unemployed.
“The whole idea is to create a budget so the spending is on the front end,” Kitzhaber said. “It’s an economy issue and an education issue. … We’ve created a lot of jobs in Oregon, but a lot of those jobs are ‘flat’ jobs. There’s not a lot of opportunity to move up. What people want to believe is that there is a pathway to upward mobility.”
Also during his Eastern Oregon tour, Kitzhaber visited the Greenwood Resources mill in Boardman, the Port of Morrow, Umatilla Electric Co-op and Pioneer Hi-Bred in Hermiston, and the ZeaChem bio-fuels demonstration plant in Boardman.