Merkleys new senate bill is better, but will be hard to pass


Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have joined forces to introduce a new senate bill to address water issues in the Crooked River Basin.

The Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 is an improvement over previous legislation sponsored by Merkley and Wyden.

The bill has several changes from a similar bill introduced by Merkley in 2012 that failed to get to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

It addresses at least part of the concern of recreationalists, farmers, and ranchers who were concerned that reservoir drawdowns for fish habitat downstream could negatively impact them.

However, it appears that it would still be possible for fish habitat to take precedence over recreational and agricultural concerns in an exceptionally dry year.

More puzzling is why Merkley and Wyden chose not to merely amend the Bowman Dam bill sponsored by Greg Walden, which passed the House of Representatives unanimously earlier this fall.

Although Walden’s bill may not be perfect, it does take care of both recreationalist and agricultural concerns. The bill introduced by Merkley and Wyden is much more complex, consequently making it more difficult to pass in the Senate and clearly making reconciliation with the House bill more difficult than necessary.

Still, the bill is an improvement over the 2012 version of the Senate bill. Like the Walden bill, the senate version would provide water for future growth for the city of Prineville. The bill would also move the wild and scenic river boundary from the middle of Bowman Dam to a quarter-mile downstream, allowing for hydropower development.

Unlike the Walden bill, which does not have the support of some conservation groups, the Senate bill looks to take a more balanced approach to meeting the concerns of recreationalists, farmers, and conservationists alike.

It would have been nice if members of the House and Senate had worked together on one bill that everyone could support. Since that didn't happen, the 2013 version of the Senate bill is still a major step in the right direction.

It’s time that members of both parties put partisan bickering aside, pass the bill through the Senate, then quickly reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill so that Prineville and Crook County can move forward.