Lawmakers consider extending fish screen tax credit

Dan Kleinsmith, project manager for the Farmers Conservation Alliance, and Julie Davies O'Shea, the non-profit's executive director, explain the functioning of a small, modular fish screen in Oregon's Hood River Valley. Oregon lawmakers are considering whether to extend a tax credit for such fix screens.

SALEM — Lawmakers are considering whether to extend a tax credit for Oregon farmers who install fish screens on their irrigation intakes, which expires next year.

Under Senate Bill 172, the tax credit — which covers 50 percent of installation costs up to $5,000 — would expire in 2024 instead of 2018.

“We view this as a valuable tool in the toolbox,” said Alan Ritchey, manager of the fish screening program at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Screens are intended to prevent fish from getting sucked into irrigation systems and killed.

Between 2010 and 2015, Oregon has issued 230 tax credits for the installation of fish screens at an average amount of $819, according to the Legislative Revenue Office.

“We have tens of thousands of unscreened diversions, so this is way of chipping away at those,” said Shannon Hurn, ODFW’s deputy director for fish and wildlife programs.

While the amount of money spent on the tax credits is relatively small, Hurn said it helps incentivize voluntary installation of fish screens, she said.

The program also smoothes the process for mandatory installations, since irrigators are required to install fish screens when establishing new water rights or changing the point of diversion, she said.

“When they are required, it is a very tense conversation and this makes it more palatable,” said Hurn, who estimated that roughly half the tax credits are used for mandatory installations.

The tax credit supplements a cost-share program that assists landowners with money and technical expertise.

The debate over requiring fish screens for irrigation diversions dates back to the 1980s, with lawmakers enacting the cost-share and tax credit programs to relieve the burden on landowners, said Richard Kosesan, lobbyist for Water for Life, a group representing irrigators.

The approach relied on investment from landowners and the state, as well as anglers in the form of a surcharge on fishing licenses, he said.

Without state assistance, “you get away from the cooperative nature of the program.” Kosesan said.

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