By Joe Burns
The Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act passed unanimously on the house floor Tuesday. While Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Crook County leaders praised the bill, some others are still wary of the possible effects on wildlife.
Walden, the chief sponsor of the bill, says it's a good common-sense, job-creating bill that has support from many members of our community.
However, some environmental and conservation groups say they want to see a more balanced bill.
Twenty miles upriver from Prineville sits the Bowman Dam and the Prineville Reservoir, where there's 80,000 acres of un-contracted water.
In House Bill 2060, the city of Prineville would get access to 6 percent of that water.
"That extra water would allow the city to tell perspective companies, "Hey you can bring your businesses and jobs to Prineville, we now have the water that you need," Rep. Walden said on the House floor Tuesday.
Prineville is becoming attractive to new businesses such as Facebook and Apple.
"Prineville is on the verge of becoming another Quincy, Washington which is home to Yahoo, Microsoft, Dell, and others," Walden said.
But to become another Quincy, Walden says Prineville needs water -- and not just for businesses but for households, too.
"You're talking about 500 homes inside the city limits that don't have access to city water that this bill will now allow them to have access to," Walden said.
The bill also corrects the boundary line of the Crooked River Wild and Scenic Area, which now goes down the middle of Bowman Dam.
"This is a simple boundary change to something that was designated on the federal level," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, said. "It has taken a great deal of time, and the impact will be great for the economy and that area."
That correction would allow for a small-scale private hydro-power facility at the base of Bowman Dam.
"By adding the hydro, it actually improves the release of the water, making it better for the fish," Walden said. "it creates new hydro energy and construction jobs."
Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe says the bill provides real benefits to their community and the Crooked River.
"I'm very excited about it," Roppe said. "I think that we've been working for two or three years, and we anticipate that this is a positive step forward"
It's not a done deal, though.
The Senate gets its time to come up with its own bills, and there is some opposition.
WaterWatch, a group that protects and restores natural streamflows, is disappointed with the House-passed version of the bill.
"It does nothing significant for fish and wildlife," said Kimberley Priestley, senior policy analyst with WaterWatch. "We feel that Oregon can do better."
Priestley says WaterWatch would like the Senate bill to have the remaining un-contracted water behind the dam be managed and released for downstream fisheries.
Mayor Roppe said the Senate version of the bill will be a companion piece to the House bill. She said she would like to see the legislation signed into law by the end of this year.