558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
For the past two years, local leaders have worked with Crook County’s representatives in Congress to pass a Bowman Dam bill that will benefit the community in several ways.
The problem is they have yet to pass a bill through both chambers, and citizens continue to wait – and wonder if the legislation will see the light of day.
Proposed legislation would fix a dire water supply issue for the City of Prineville by allocating 5,100 acre-feet of currently unallocated Prineville Reservoir water for City use. Without it, they lack enough water to supply future community growth.
That water would actually stay in the Crooked River. The allocation instead helps them mitigate for whatever water they draw from the ground. Simply put, by law, you have to put back what you take out, and this allocation would technically put it back.
The legislation also moves the federal Wild and Scenic boundary from atop Bowman Dam to a location a quarter-mile downriver, which would enable construction of a small hydroelectric power plant on the dam and create jobs in the process.
Republican Representative Greg Walden introduced a bill in the House of Representatives in January 2011, stressing that it came with no cost to taxpayers. By June, the House passed the bill and it moved to the Senate where it has sat untouched ever since.
In August, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley co-sponsored their own legislation that mirrored much of the bill Walden introduced. However, it made additional provisions for fish habitat, one of which has caused local controversy amid fears that it enables the draining of Prineville Reservoir.
This concern, coupled with the Presidential election, ground work on the bill to a halt. Congress then failed to take up the legislation during the lame duck session that followed the election because they had to focus on the fiscal cliff.
Now, the 112th session of Congress has concluded and both bills have subsequently expired. As local leaders feared last year, Walden, Wyden, and Merkley have to start over and introduce new bills. In recent local town halls, both Walden and Merkley have assured citizens that they are working together on a new bill and will reach a solution soon.
We have to wonder how soon that will truly be. While they say they will work together, we know that Walden prefers his bill with amendments for fish habitat, yet Merkley has continually expressed a desire to gain as much consensus from multiple stakeholders as possible. This includes fish habitat interests as well as those who share concerns about draining the reservoir.
We are having a tougher and tougher time believing lawmakers when they say they will soon have a new bill. They have said this for a year, yet neither side has truly united as near as we can tell. That has to change.
It is time to make this bill happens, and stop saying “soon, soon, soon.” The longer nothing happens on this bill, we begin hearing “never, never, never.”