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Merkley introduces new Bowman Dam bill

The legislation is very similar to legislation introduced in 2012, but includes some changes


Within a month of the U.S. House passing Republican Rep. Greg Walden’s Bowman Dam bill for a second time, Sen. Jeff Merkley has again introduced his version.

Merkley and legislation co-sponsor Ron Wyden, both Democrats, unveiled the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 this past Thursday. Like Walden's bill, it seeks to allocate 5,100 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir water for the City of Prineville, and move the federal Wild and Scenic boundary on the Crooked River from the center of Bowman Dam to a location one quarter-mile downriver, which would enable construction of a hydroelectric power plant.

“The full potential of the Crooked River and Prineville Reservoir beckoned to Central Oregon for decades, but a common agreement has been long out of reach,” Merkley said. “I am pleased to join Sen. Wyden and many Crooked River stakeholders to realize that full potential.”

Wyden said the bill will create more jobs, secure a stable drinking water supply for Prineville as well as clean water for endangered fish.

“This bill addresses all the issues that are important to Central Oregon.”

Merkley’s spokesperson, Courtney Warner Crowell, said that the new bill is very similar to the legislation that he introduced last year. However, it does include what she characterized as some technical changes that are intended to address public concerns.

The chief concern among local residents was that the bill enabled the Bureau of Reclamation to drain Prineville Reservoir to levels unfit for recreational use in order to satisfy concerns on fish habitat.

“What we found is that in order to get sufficient flows in the river to sustain fish, the Bureau of Reclamation will only need to release a relatively small amount of water from the reservoir in the summer months in most years,” Warner Crowell stated. “Typically, there is more than enough water in the fall, winter, and spring for the fish, and the bureau actually has to release excess water to manage for flooding risks.”

To address dry years, a new version of the bill has created a process that brings all of the stakeholders together to plan for how to minimize the impact to everyone, including flat water recreationalists.

“We also included, as a new provision in the bill, a requirement that the Bureau of Reclamation project the reservoir levels for the year to make sure that the public can plan ahead if they’re expecting a dry year when everyone will be dealing with less-than-ideal water conditions.”

In 2012, Merkley’s first version of this bill failed to move beyond committee and died when the current Congress convened. This coincided with Walden having passed the 2012 version of his bill in the House - a bill the Senate never considered.

One year later, the situation is seemingly identical, and although Walden contends that the fastest way to pass Bowman Dam legislation is to amend his version, Merkley sees it differently.

“The senator felt really strongly that we need a comprehensive bill that all the stakeholders support,” Warner Crowell said. “We are at a prime opportunity right now, with Sen. Wyden as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to really help push this through.”

Locally, leaders have not publicly stated a preference for one bill over the other. They recently expressed support for Walden’s bill, but are giving similar praise to the Merkley's new legislation.

“The senator has worked hard on this legislation,” said Crook County Judge Mike McCabe. “We appreciate that it will strengthen agricultural productivity, and create other economic benefits like new hydropower energy once we have this bill become law.”

Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe added that the City of Prineville needs a new law to secure water from Bowman Dam for residential and business needs.

“We look forward to working with Sen. Merkley, Sen. Wyden, and Congressman Walden to get this Crooked River legislation enacted into law,” added Roppe.




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