Oregon resource agencies missed an important deadline in configuring a water supply fund because Gov. John Kitzhaber hadn’t appointed the task forces needed to develop the program.
In August 2013, Kitzhaber signed legislation aimed at creating a $10 million Water Supply Development Account, which would provide grants and loans for additional storage and other projects.
A key component in establishing the fund is a report about “seasonally varying flows,” which will help the Oregon Water Resources Department determine how much water in a stream can be stored without affecting its ecological functioning.
Without that report, which was due July 1, stream flow regulations can’t be finalized and the water supply fund cannot issue any money. However, that deadline passed without Kitzhaber appointing a task force to write the report.
Likewise, another task force geared toward resolving uncertainties about the fund’s governance also wasn’t appointed on July 1, the date its report was due.
Gov. Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director, Richard Whitman said the task forces have since been appointed and will begin meeting on Aug. 15.
However, the delay throws into question the fund’s ability to begin dispensing cash in the spring of 2015, as originally intended by legislators, said Steve Shropshire, a water rights attorney.
“Is the department going to be ready by then? Probably not, at this point,” Shropshire said.
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, supported the bill’s passage and is concerned by the delay, but said it’s crucial that the “seasonal flows” report devises a reasonable method for allocating water.
“We’ve got to get that piece right,” he said.
Unless storage projects can retain a significant amount of water, it would be economically prohibitive to spend millions of dollars building them, Bentz said.
A previous water supply fund approved by lawmakers proved unworkable due to the onerous environmental requirements involved, he said.
Bentz said he was told by the Kitzhaber’s office that a great deal of care was taken to find the best qualified people to serve on the task forces.
“For me, it’s about getting it done right rather than getting it done as fast as possible,” said April Snell, executive director of the Oregon Water Resources Congress, which represents irrigation districts.
Snell said she’s hopeful the regulations can still be implemented by next spring, but it will be tough for water regulators to work on the rules during the next legislative session, as they will have additional obligations related to bills being written.
“It’s ambitious but it’s not undoable,” she said.
Katie Fast, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the task forces would have to move fast for the fund to become available as planned.
After they write up their recommendations, state officials must still formally adopt regulations, she said. “The rulemaking process alone takes some time.”