By CURTIS W. MARTIN
For the Capital Press
Oregon's Water Resource Department has embarked upon a project, mandated by the 2009 Legislature (House Bill 3369), to review the management of water as prescribed in our water code, in existence for over 100 years.
One of the key points to understand is that it is totally politically motivated. It was not initiated by the Water Resources Department from a known problem needing correction, nor requested from any other agency or organization.
The concept that the 1909 Water Code is outdated and immutable is incorrect. It is not a stagnant document. It has been modified numerous times, as evidenced by the inclusion of minimum stream flows (benefiting aquatic habitat), codifying storage and delivery systems and prioritization of societal needs for the quality and quantity of this precious resource.
Nevertheless, the Integrated Water Resource Strategy is statutory and is being promulgated by a project team, assembled by the Water Resources Department. To their compliment, they have established good information about the "strategy" on the OWRD Web site, which I would encourage everyone interested in production agriculture to visit, become informed about and then participate in the "open house" sessions currently being held around the state.
Oregon Cattlemen's Association has multiple concerns with the IWRS. Lead among these are possible major changes to adjudicated water rights, as are now contained within the 1909 Oregon Water Code. The Sept. 29, 2009, OWRD Briefer states that although the Integrated Water Resource Strategy project is not "intended to overhaul water law or reallocate, but if during this process, statutory modifications are deemed necessary, the Water Resource Commission will forward recommendations to the Legislature to achieve the objectives of the Water Strategy."
Make no mistake, this clearly could jeopardize how and where we currently prioritize water use and management. The economy of this state would suffer in that businesses (not only agricultural) could no longer be sure that their supply of water would not be threatened.
Another issue of concern contained within IWRS is defining "peak and ecological flows." At this time there is no scientific clarity to "ecological flow." The eight-member "Ecological Flow Technical Advisory Group" (EFTAG), which is charged with defining this, has no representation from water delivery, water management, irrigation districts or, more importantly, agricultural interests. It is heavily weighted to fisheries and in-stream use entities. Also this "ecological flow" component of HB3369 was intended for considering the funding of future water projects, but has morphed into being part of the Integrated Water Resource Strategy.
The excessive cost and use of resources this project requires of OWRD, when there is an existing backlog of work, means timely attention to valid water issues will suffer. Another problem is the elevating of three other agencies, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Agriculture along with Oregon Department of Water Resources in determining and administering water policy. Although these other agencies have always had and continue to have their role in advisement, it seems their influence is expanded into Water Resources authority.
Once again I would remind you that this project is politically motivated, and is an outgrowth of the Water Roundtables conducted in 2008, initiated by the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, chaired by Sen. Jackie Dingfelder.
In agreeing with the letter (Capital Press, March 19) from the four commission chairs, the Oregon Cattlemen's Association recognizes more demands will be put upon this limited supply of water and that participation from all affected is needed. We also know that there are opportunities to utilize more fully this precious resource, for both in-stream and out-of-stream uses.
At the same time, it is imperative that we do not threaten our economy, culture or the historical rights to the use of water that, for a large part, has made our standard of living the envy of the world. Please become informed and engaged in the Integrated Water Resource Strategy to make sure it benefits all of Oregon. Oregon Cattlemen's Association welcomes your comments.
Curtis W. Martin of North Powder, Ore., is the Water Resources Committee chair of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.