Emphasis on local planning reveals groups' divisions

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- Oregon's first long-term plan for meeting future water needs is getting a warm reception, to a point.

Teresa Huntsinger, a program director for the Oregon Environmental Council, said overall, the proposed Integrated Water Resources Strategy is balanced. But, Huntsinger said, the council is disappointed that water conservation and efficiency are not listed among the strategy's keys.

Huntsinger said the council is wary the strategy could cede too much control to local governing bodies.

"I understand that water-resources planning does need to be managed at the local level, where you understand what the needs and issues are," she said. "But the state needs to be very clear that this place-based planning is not giving up state authority. Those sideboards and requirements do need to be in place."

The latest version of the strategy the department has spent two years developing was unveiled at a recent Oregon Water Resources Commission meeting.

The strategy includes several keys, including one that calls for local governing bodies to be involved in its implementation.

"Overall, it has been a very good process, and I think the strategy is well balanced," said Huntsinger, who participated in the group that helped develop the strategy.

"I think this is an important step forward for the state that will help guide how Oregon's water is managed into the future," she said.

Gil Riddell, a policy coordinator at the Association of Oregon Counties, said he liked the overall plan as well.

"At this point, we like the looks of it," he said. "It is very comprehensive."

Counter to Huntsinger's concerns, Riddell said he liked the plan's emphasis on local planning.

"We like the emphasis on incentives and local-based integrated planning," he said. "That appeals to us.

"And we like that it emphasizes the need for more funding for the strategy and for more water information and data in general," he said.

Riddell said AOC was still developing its final comments, which are due to the commission by March 15.

"I expect the comments will be largely positive," he said.

Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the organization is still developing its comments.

"We think, overall, this creates great opportunities to move forward water-development projects and prioritizing the need for more water for irrigation, economic development and municipalities," Fast said.

"One of its downfalls is it is pretty vague," she said. "It doesn't have a lot of detail about how we are going to exactly meet the needs and challenges of the state.

"But it creates a map for the Legislature to fund projects and see the needs we have in Oregon," she said.

Kimberley Priestly of WaterWatch, said WaterWatch also has some concerns with the plan's "placed-based approach."

"We very much support placed-based planning," she said, "but those efforts need to be led by the state and have pretty detailed sideboards.

"We do not support anything that could be construed as a move toward local self governance over water issues," she said.

"The key piece for us is Oregon's rivers belong to all of the people of Oregon, not just local interests," she said.

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