Oregon regulators would gain new authority over water hauling under a bill aimed at fighting illegal marijuana production.
Companies that sell and haul water would face new record-keeping requirements under House Bill 4061, as well as criminal and civil penalties for violating those rules or for selling to illicit marijuana growers.
The bill also would criminalize pumping groundwater to irrigate illegal cannabis without a water right.
Under the record-keeping rules, both water haulers and those who buy their water for irrigation would need to track certain information about usage and location.
While that may seem redundant, the point of those provisions is to "cross-check" the information, said Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, chair of the House Agriculture, Land Use and Water Committee.
"Because there's been a lot of deceit and lying that has been going on with hauling water for illegal uses, that's a chance to catch inconsistencies," he said.
Prosecutors would retain the ability to charge people who violate the new law with lesser crimes or to forgo charges — for example, if it's clear a person made an innocent mistake, Helm said.
"What we are really trying to do is give law enforcement some reasons to investigate water hauling that may be suspicious on the front end," he said. "This should not catch up law-abiding folks in the net."
Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the bill should avoid unintended consequences for legitimate water users.
Most water in the agriculture industry is hauled for stockwater uses, not for irrigation, she said. It's not economically practical for plants other than marijuana.
"It would never pencil for hemp or any other crop," Cooper said.
One of the original ideas for the bill was to prohibit water hauling entirely, but that was scrapped as lawmakers learned about the legitimate uses of hauled water, Helm said.
Meghan Walstatter, interim executive director of the Oregon Cannabis Association, objected to a portion of the bill that would create additional licensing requirements for legal marijuana growers.
"We are not the problem," she said. "The regulated market should not have to go through more steps to prove they are good actors," Walstatter said.
Helm said that a planned amendment to HB 4061 aims to resolve those concerns.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.