We may be biased, but Oregon's recently completed Integrated Water Resources Strategy gives short shrift to agriculture and the need for more water storage around the state.
The plan recognizes both the contribution agriculture makes to the state's economy and the impact adequate amounts of water have on agricultural yields, but it doesn't go beyond that.
Water in Oregon is grossly underutilized, according to the strategy. About 100 million acre-feet of water fill lakes and streams and recharge aquifers each year. Of that, only 9 percent is used for agriculture, municipal water systems and other purposes. That means 91 percent either stays in the ground or flows to the ocean.
At least some of that extra water should be put to use for irrigation and other agriculture-related purposes. The document found that crops generally have the largest requirement of water during the summer, when streamflows are lowest, yet it doesn't go beyond that. That means storage -- in aquifers, ponds and lakes -- is much needed.
Members of Gov. John Kitzhaber's administration are quick to point out the value of agriculture and the contributions the state's 38,000 farms and ranches make to the economy, but when it comes to protecting and promoting their lifeblood -- water -- all the strategy does is call for more studies.
We fear "studies" may be a code word for "doing nothing." Oregon has long suffered under the burden of the federal Endangered Species Act, which in Oregon ties up natural resources -- primarily water -- and billions of tax dollars but doesn't accomplish much else. Yet most Oregon leaders are missing in action when it comes to efforts to fix that law. One gets the feeling that fish take priority over people in Oregon.
To be perfectly clear, Oregon needs more water storage to grow and to do its part to feed the world. It doesn't need more studies and it doesn't need more lip service about why Oregonians can't take advantage of the ample water resources that literally fall out of the sky.
That's in stark contrast to state and federal leaders in other states such as Washington, where coordinated efforts are under way to increase the amount of irrigation water taken from the Columbia River. U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is also working hard to protect and improve water resources to help farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture in Oregon needs more water that can be used to grow more crops, water livestock and quench the thirst of the 3.6 million people that live here. Whether it's in the form of dams, ponds, recharging aquifers -- or plastic swimming pools for children -- additional storage for water will continue to be crucial to the future of agriculture in Oregon.
And the state's economy in general.
Now is the time for action, not more studies.