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House Panel Approves Walden Legislation Enhancing Water Management, Conservation Across Oregon

Location: Washington, DC

House Panel Approves Walden Legislation Enhancing Water Management, Conservation Across Oregon

The House Committee on Resources today passed legislation sponsored by Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore, aimed at enhancing dam safety, water delivery, agriculture usage and water conservation efforts throughout central, southern and eastern Oregon. The Oregon Water Resources Management Act of 2006, H.R. 5079, is a package of four bills previously introduced by Walden and Oregon Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden. The bill passed the Resources Committee by voice vote with no opposition.

"Water issues are critical throughout Oregon. Whether it is water stored behind a dam in need of repair to protect residents in Wallowa County, or improving water quality and increasing water quantity in the Deschutes River for all uses, one can't understate the importance of good water stewardship in central, southern and eastern Oregon," said Walden. "The Oregon Water Resources Management Act will help facilitate improved cooperation between the federal government and various local entities when it comes to the management of this precious resource for both environmental needs and the many production uses associated with the Second District's strong agricultural way of life."

He added, "I have worked closely with Senators Smith and Wyden in writing and introducing these legislative concepts bills in the Congress, and I look forward to working with them further as this bill advances through the House and on to the Senate."

As passed, H.R. 5079 combines provisions from the North Unit Irrigation District Act as well as three other bills: the Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act (S. 166), the Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation Act (H.R. 5019) and the Little Butte/Bear Creak Subbasins Water Feasibility Act (S. 251).

The North Unit Irrigation District (NUID) Act would resolve several limitations in NUID's contract with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), allowing for the dedication of water to in-stream uses which would make the district eligible to participate in state-funded conservation programs. Additionally, the bill would allow NUID to deliver Deschutes Project water—without increased diversion from the Deschutes Project—to families currently using Crooked River water to irrigate 9,000 acres of land in the district. This would reduce diversion of Crooked River water leaving more in stream.

"This legislation benefits the local economy and the environment by enabling NUID to more efficiently manage its water supplies and improve conservation efforts. The proposed changes would directly assist 900 farmers and ranchers in Jefferson County while improving stream flows at the same time," said Walden.

The Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization (DRC) Act would reauthorize the DRC and allow for annual federal assistance toward their efforts through 2015. The DRC was originally authorized by Congress in 1996 to implement water conservation measures in the Deschutes River Basin.

"The Deschutes River Conservancy has done many good things during the past 10 years. It brings together landowners, environmentalists, tribes and local governments to find common ground and achieve successes through efforts such as riparian area fencing, the planting of trees, reconstructing stream beds and enhancing stream flows in the Deschutes River Basin," said Walden.

The Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation Act would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to provide grants or enter into cooperative agreements—with tribes, the state, local governments and the Associated Ditch Companies—to plan, design and repair Wallowa Lake Dam and preserve the valuable water recreation site behind the dam. The bill would authorize federal assistance for this project, requiring an even cost share match between federal and local dollars.

"Rehabilitation of the Wallowa Lake Dam, which has been identified as a high-hazard structure by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is very important to the local community and this legislation will help advance local efforts to see such work completed," said Walden. "I've held many local meetings with those affected by the dam to develop a bill that protects water rights and provides needed federal assistance to repair this aging structure."

The Little Butte/Bear Creek Subbasins Water Feasibility Act would authorize the BOR to conduct a much-needed water management feasibility study at the Little Butte and Bear Creak watersheds as outlined in the agency's Memorandum of Agreement with the City of Medford for the Water for Irrigation, Streams and the Economy (WISE) project.

"This provision of H.R. 5079 will help foster collaborative efforts between federal, state and local governments all working together on the WISE project to benefit cities, irrigators, fish and the environment throughout the Rogue Valley. The study will help the project's goals of increasing summer stream flows, improving water quality and temperature, and improving the irrigation systems throughout the region," said Walden.

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