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Senate Appropriations committee funds projects like water infrastructure and wildfire relief

The United States Senate has passed a spending plan for the $44.8 billion dollar Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Bill, and 111 Oregon projects are receiving funding.

In Jefferson County, almost $10 million in direct project funding has been promised to four community projects. The bill also supports other nationwide projects that are likely to support Jefferson County in areas like wildfire management, outdoor recreation, and water infrastructure.

The bill supports nationwide projects on wildfire suppression, public lands, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment. The 111 projects in Oregon span a gambit of topics, and Oregon stands to benefit from a variety of the federal programs the bill supports. The bill has been approved by the Senate and is now set to merge with the legislation approved by the house before it is finalized.

The funding is divided into federal projects and community-initiated projects. Oregon's "Because of Senator Merkley's position on the powerful Appropriations Committee and key role pushing Oregon priorities in the drafting of the bills, and the collaborative way that Senator Merkley and Wyden work together to advocate for projects from Oregon, last year the two senators were able to secure more projects for their home state than any other senators besides Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer," states a joint release from the two senators.

PMG PHOTO: KIVA HANSON - The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have been storing water in 
an old school building since the pipe break to distribute.

Warm Springs Water

The largest local community-initiated project included in the senate bill goes to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to address their water infrastructure crisis.

The current funding, $5 million, fills part of an enormous project with many funding sources that will build a new water treatment facility in Warm Springs.

"Once again, Senators Merkley and Wyden have stepped up to help the Warm Springs Tribe address its ongoing water crisis. This legislation would allow the Tribe to dramatically improve reliable access to clean, running water to thousands of people living on the Warm Springs Reservation," said Tribal Council Chairman, Jonathan Smith.

In 2019, Warm Springs declared an emergency disaster after a large section of the water main broke. Since then, issues with the over 40-year-old water treatment facility have caused massive rolling water shutoffs and boil notices throughout the reservation.

The aging facility and piping infrastructure have received band-aid fixes over the last decade but are long overdue for replacement. The replacement of the plant would cost upwards of $30 million. Over $200 million more would be needed to fully modernize the system.

The project has received funding from a variety of sources, including Biden's infrastructure bill, Indian Health Services, private organizations and funding from the federal government.

Recent funding has come from sources like the Department of Health and Human Services, who granted the Tribes $27 million in June. Funding from non-governmental sources, like non-profit Seeding Justice's Chúush Fund have brought together a variety of local non-profits and stakeholders to support the needed repairs. These funds have yet to meet the projects hefty price tag, but continued funding from a variety of sources mean the replacement of the water treatment plant is moving closer to a reality.

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Central Oregon Community College's Madras Campus

COCC

Another funding recipient is Central Oregon Community Colleges Madras Campus, who have been allocated $153,000 in the bill. The institution announced in May plans to expand the COCC-Madras campus, increasing the number of disciplines and services the college offers.

"This bill includes investments to ensure the essential role community colleges can play in the long-term economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Laurie Chesley, president of COCC. "We are particularly grateful to Senators Merkley and Wyden for prioritizing healthcare workforce training in rural Oregon and for helping us to purchase state-of-the-art equipment in order to meet employers' demands for highly skilled nurses, CNAs, and medical assistants. With this bill's support, we will be able to serve a new generation of students from Jefferson County and the Warm Springs Reservation."

The project plans to build a 15,000 sq. ft. facility on 26 acres of land donated by the Bean Foundation of Madras. The project's $10 million budget hopes to receive funding from private, local and federal funding. The $153,000 allocated in the senate bill makes a small dent as the group begins the design and development stage of the project.

The new facility will house training and education space designed to meet workforce need. Programs like labs for health careers and an early childhood workforce development program in the new facility hope to fill gaps in the community. The early childcare facility hopes to add 100 childcare slots operated by The Children's Learning Center.

NUID

The bill allots $3.445 million for the North Unit Irrigation District for the Crooked River Water Quality and Supply Reliability Pumping Plant Feasibility Study. The drought and recent requirements to release water for aquatic habitat have Jefferson County farmers with less than a quarter of the water they need to farm the 58,000 acres in the North Unit. The NUID is in the initial planning stages to build a pumping station in Lake Billy Chinook. Such a pumping station would eliminate the need to draw irrigation water from the Crooked River, and would allow the water pumped from the lake to remain instream until it gets to the lake. Several studies must take place before the project can go forward: an environmental study, an economic study, and a feasibility study.

The $3.445 from this bill helps pay for the feasibility study.

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Farmers in Jefferson County rely on North Unit Irrigation to water 
their fields. With a deficiency of water in recent years, NUID hopes the 
pumping project might bring some relief.

USFS

The U.S. Forest Service will receive $3.95 billion in funding from the bill, $700,000 of which goes to the Deschutes National Forest to support recreation access. This means funding projects like trail maintenance, re-grading trails and providing increased information and access to the hundreds of trailheads across Central Oregon. While no specific projects have been tagged for this funding, a variety of recreational projects in the region are planned.

Aside from the community projects supported by the bill, nationwide programs of the Department of the Interior received a total of $16.6 billion. Many national projects are likely to support Central Oregonians:

  • Wildland firefighting, personnel and preparedness: $4.4 billion to support full-time wildland fire positions, hazard fuel management programs and other fire management projects.
  • Wildfire smoke mitigation: $10 million for the EPA to support local preparation and protection against wildfires smoke hazards
  • Forest Restoration: $28 million for forest landscape restoration. This program will focus on five collaborative forest projects across the country, including the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The bill also provided an additional $2 million for local organizations to work on restoration projects.
  • Outdoor Recreation: $480.5 million for a variety of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management projects at the federal, state and local level.
  • Tribal Programs and Services: $11.4 billion in funding for tribal communities across the country. The bill also establishes the Indian Reservation Drinking Water program with $5 million specifically earmarked for The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

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