Call it the incredible shrinking bill. Farmers and others in Eastern Oregon have been short of water for many years. Despite the fact the Columbia River borders their farmland, they do not have enough water to irrigate their crops and grow their economy. Because groundwater in the region is scarce, they cannot get enough from wells.
It only makes sense to tap the Columbia for water. With a little water, the dryland fields of Eastern Oregon could bloom, providing a variety of crops, ranging from wheat to biofuels.
Without it, Eastern Oregonians will continue to struggle economically.
They have gone to the Oregon Legislature for help. While many lawmakers have come to understand the issues at stake, others seem not to understand that water is the economic lifeblood of the region. They place the welfare of fish over that of their neighbors to the east.
The runaround they've been getting is an example of how a good proposal -- obtaining water for Eastern Oregon -- can be chipped away until it doesn't accomplish its original purpose. The original amount of water, 450,000 acre-feet, was reduced to 100,000. Then the water could only be made available in the winter.
Next the Legislature will require that 2 cups of water be used, and only during a full moon.
Let's put this into perspective. About 33 million acre-feet a year is diverted from rivers in the Columbia Basin, with Idaho taking nearly 60 percent, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department.
Oregon's share of this water is about 5 million acre-feet.
The current amount in the bill, after a committee vote last week, is for 100,000 acre-feet a year -- roughly enough to irrigate 30,000 acres of dry agricultural land.
We fear this has become an example of an old tactic that environmental opponents have used to kill projects they don't like.
First they say they like it.
Then they quickly add that "if you could only change this."
Then they add, "And this."
"And this, too."
Pretty soon the project shrinks into oblivion.
This proposal is aimed at creating jobs. By slicing and dicing it, opponents are demonstrating their lack of concern for creating jobs and placing the welfare of fish over people.
They are wrongheaded on both counts.
The Legislature needs to restore the proposal to the original 450,000 acre-feet and return the proposal to the fast track.
The region's economy is at stake. And the fish won't miss the water.