SALEM — A political dispute over new taxes on healthcare in Oregon is being blamed for an irrigation district losing $1.9 million to pipe an open canal.
Lawmakers approved money for the Bradshaw Drop Irrigation Canal Piping Project in July as part of a broader spending bill, but Gov. Kate Brown has now vetoed funding for that project and several others in Southern Oregon.
Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said he agreed to vote for the healthcare taxes — giving the proposal the necessary three-fifths majority to pass the House — in return for the spending projects.
Since then, however, Esquivel has thrown his support behind an effort to refer the healthcare taxes to voters as part of a ballot initiative.
In retaliation, Brown has vetoed several projects that are important to his district, Esquivel said.
“She’s vindictive toward me,” he said. “She’s politicizing good projects just for vindictiveness.”
A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment, but in her written announcement of the vetoes, Brown said, “The cornerstone of all negotiations whether they occur in a public or private arena, is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
While it’s disappointing the “political feud” has caused the state funding to fall through, the Rogue River Irrigation District is still expecting to begin the piping its canal in autumn 2018, said Brian Hampson, the district’s manager.
The irrigation district still has $3.4 million available from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to pipe 1.2 miles of the 3.3 mile canal, he said.
This portion of the piping project is more complicated due to environmental studies and logistical complexities, which is why it’s expected to cost more than the remainder of the project, Hampson said.
The $1.9 million from the state government would have been dedicated to the more straight-forward task of replacing 2.1 miles of canal with piping, he said.
It’s unclear how the irrigation district will now pay for that segment, but Hampson said he’s hopeful to “quit all the political crap” and find funding for the project on its own merits.
Currently, the open canal is leaky, resulting in losses of water that could otherwise be dedicated to irrigation or left in-stream for fish habitat.
By pressurizing the irrigation system, farmers will be able to convert from flood irrigation to more efficient sprinklers, saving water while reducing sediment runoff.
Eventually, the irrigation district also expects to evaluate using the pressurized water to generate hydroelectric power.