By MITCH LIES
PORTLAND -- The latest effort to develop new irrigation water for Umatilla Basin farmers could provide a breakthrough in what has been a long-standing stalemate between farmers, environmentalists and other fish interests.
At a symposium on Columbia River water at the Northwest Agricultural Show Jan. 29, Craig Reeder, a Umatilla basin farmer, said a broad coalition of discussion participants is prepared to sign a declaration of cooperation that will increase irrigation supplies in the basin for the first time in two decades.
The two-hour symposium included presentations by Environmental Protection Agency official Mary Lou Soscia, Paul Lumley, executive director of the Inter-Trial Fish Commission, and consultant Ed Sheets.
Reeder, chief financial officer for Hale Farms, said the effort marks the first time "a really broad stakeholder base got together to talk about all the issues."
Prepared to sign the agreement are representatives of tribes, ports, municipalities, environmental groups and water users, Reeder said.
The effort, the latest in several attempts to increase irrigation supplies in the basin dating back to the mid-2000s, last year was named an Oregon Solutions Project, or a priority of Gov. John Kitzhaber. The stakeholders started meeting in the fall.
Reeder, who is among discussion participants, said the group plans to sign the declaration in mid-February.
Included in the agreement are calls to work with other states and Canada, he said.
"We're going to work with storage projects ... (implement) additional conservation measures, just to make sure that we are being as efficient as possible," he said. "And then the state is going to offer up some administrative resources."
Kitzhaber is proposing lawmakers provide funds in the 2013 legislative session to help move the measures forward, according to Reeder.
Reeder said the irrigators took additional summer withdrawals off the table early in the discussions, a move that helped move the discussions forward.
Environmentalists, tribes and other fish interests have objected to attempts in recent years to obtain additional summer water withdrawals from the Columbia River, contending that diverting water for irrigation in summer could harm endangered salmon runs.
The seminar was sponsored by Capital Press, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Northwest Agricultural Show.