Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., on Wednesday reintroduced the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act, which he said would deliver needed water to Prineville for job creation, clear the way for clean energy at Bowman Dam and create new water conservation opportunities in Central Oregon.
“This is a no-cost, job-creating, clean energy plan, and passing it is just common-sense," Walden said. "The bill will create jobs in Central Oregon, cut through government red tape, provide for clean energy generation, and improve water quality and flows for fish and wildlife, all without costing the taxpayer a dime."
"This bill passed unanimously through the House last Congress, and I look forward to moving it swiftly through the House again. Now is the time to get this done for Central Oregon.”
The previous version of the bill, which is identical to this year’s version, passed the House unanimously in June of last year, but was not brought before the Senate for a vote.
Water for job creation in Crook County
The bill allows Prineville to utilize up to 5,100 acre feet of water from Prineville Reservoir, or about 6 percent of the total unallocated water behind the dam (80,000 acre feet). The water certainty would allow Prineville to entice new technology opportunities like Facebook and Apple, and service all of the homes within city limits.
Crook County’s unemployment rate of 12.5 percent is the highest in the state.
"Prineville needs the tools necessary to create jobs and attract new businesses. This small amount of water will help do just that,” Walden said.
Clean energy and new jobs at Bowman Dam
The bill would also clear the way for small-scale hydropower production at the base of Bowman Dam, creating about 50 jobs over the course of two construction seasons.
Legislation is necessary to make this happen because of the way the law is written currently. In 1988, Congress designated 17.8 miles of the Crooked River as part of the “wild and scenic” rivers system, which is charged with preserving rivers with “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
But when the Bureau of Land Management drew up the maps for the new wild and scenic area on the Crooked River after the 1988 designation, they placed one end of the boundary right down the middle of Bowman Dam.
“There is nothing wild and scenic about a dam,” Walden said.
Hydropower is not permitted in wild and scenic areas, so an act of Congress is required to fix the mistake and place the boundary line below the dam, where it should have been all along. Doing so will allow the hydropower project — and the jobs it would create — to go forward.
In a letter sent to Walden in 2008, BLM State Director Ed Shepard said, “The BLM does not believe that it was the intent of Congress to place the wild and scenic river boundary on the center of the dam or to even include the dam, but rather just below the dam and spillway structures.”
McKay Creek restoration and other conservation efforts
Because Prineville accesses its water from ground sources, the 5,100 acre feet of water would be released downstream, providing additional spilled water into the Crooked River that could benefit the blue-ribbon trout fishery below Bowman Dam. The bill also boosts conservation efforts in McKay Creek to enhance fish habitat.
Community support for the plan
Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe, Chairman of the Central Oregon Cities Organization: “Water supply certainty will not only benefit all of our citizens but is vital to the economic development that is sorely needed in our community. We still have one of the highest unemployment rates in the State of Oregon. This legislation will benefit our agriculture community while also benefiting the Crooked River environment, recreation, fish and wildlife. I am proud of Rep. Walden’s leadership. The Central Oregon Cities Organization strongly believes that Congressman Walden’s legislation is a responsible, balanced step to improve Central Oregon’s social, economic and environmental values.”
Crook County Judge Mike McCabe: “This bill is vital for our community, both from the residential and from the industrial perspective. With the loss of timber jobs, we need to find sustainable ways to provide water for businesses, cities, farmers and ranchers. Fishermen and flat water boaters also benefit from this legislation. Rep. Walden’s bill is a terrific step to sustaining and creating jobs in Oregon.”
Brian Barney, Ochoco Irrigation District: “U.S. Representative Greg Walden’s proposed legislation is of great benefit to our local farmers and ranchers. The legislation creates certainty of our water availability much like we have relied upon for the last 50 years. Agriculture is a large supporter of our local economy and agriculture relies heavily on water. Irrigation water serves a multitude of needs and with the District’s management of this resource, in conjunction with spring runoff, benefits recreational interests by providing water for all to enjoy. The Legislation also contains provisions that provide Ochoco Irrigation District the opportunity to participate in water conservation programs and allow a portion of the conserved water to be permanently designated for instream purposes to benefit downstream fisheries. We would like to thank Congressman Walden and his staff for all of the hard work they have put in to make this legislation a success for all involved.”