Legislation sponsored by senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden passed out of committee

Bowman Dam legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden took another step forward last week.

The Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act, reintroduced by Oregon’s two Democratic legislators in November, was finally passed out of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, and awaits a future floor vote.

The bill would allocate approximately 5,100 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir water to the City of Prineville, to enable the community to meet its needs for future growth. It would also move the federal Wild and Scenic boundary from the top of Bowman Dam to a location a quarter-mile downriver, making the dam eligible for a hydroelectric power plant.

In addition, the bill is designed to provide more certainty for irrigators who depend on water from Crooked River and allow the release of water from Bowman Dam to help maintain healthy steelhead, salmon, and trout fisheries.

“This legislation is all about providing water certainty and laying a foundation for economic growth in Prineville and across Central Oregon,” Merkley said. “The stakeholders have done great work in coming together around a common vision after years of division. Now, it’s time for Congress to act, and it’s great news that the Senate has moved one step closer to getting this bill signed into law.”

Wyden added that the bill uses an innovative approach, supported by the Prineville community and local irrigators.

“This is Oregon managing Oregon’s business and I commend Senator Merkley for his efforts in advancing this bill,” he said.

The legislation is one of two Bowman Dam bills currently awaiting passage in Congress after both failed to pass the prior year. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) sponsored a reintroduced bill that passed the House earlier this year. The legislation, which still awaits action in the Senate, bears many similarities to the Senate bill, however it does not place the same emphasis on water releases for fish habitat.

Language concerning the water releases raised controversy among local residents who voiced concerns that the bill would enable the Bureau of Reclamation to drain Prineville Reservoir to a point that it would hamper recreational use.

During a February town hall in Prineville, Merkley said that the concerns expressed about the reservoir would be addressed in the new version of the bill.

“We heard a lot of feedback on that question,” he said. “No one of the original set of stakeholders envisioned that as an increased likelihood."

Upon reintroduction of the bill, local leaders showed their support of the legislation and expressed hope that it would pass soon.

Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe said city leaders looked forward to working with Merkley and Wyden to get the bill enacted to law, and Crook County Judge Mike McCabe added that the senators worked hard on the bill.

“We appreciate that it will strengthen agricultural productivity, and create other economic benefits, like new hydropower energy, once we have this bill become law,” McCabe said.

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