By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A legislative committee on July 2 moved Oregon one step closer to creating a water-supply development fund that could benefit irrigators, municipalities and other water users.
"This bill is an important piece of legislation to Eastern Oregon and all of Oregon," Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said in explaining Senate Bill 839 to the joint Ways and Means Committee in a work session late-afternoon July 2.
Moments later, the committee unanimously supported the bill, moving it to the Senate floor with a do-pass recommendation.
The bill establishes a water-supply development fund and sets up criteria for accessing it.
"I think there are three basins that can immediately use it," Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton, said moments after the committee moved the bill. "The Willamette, the Deschutes and the Umatilla."
The bill includes only minimal funding to operate task forces designed to, among other functions, gauge the needs of different watersheds for new water supply projects.
But, Smith said, additional funding could be made available for projects through Senate Bill 5533, a bill currently in the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction.
Richard Whitman, natural resources policy advisor for Gov. John Kitzhaber, projected $10 million could be made available for projects statewide.
Senate Bill 839 now must clear the Senate and House floors before landing on the desk of Kitzhaber.