558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Two local bills await introduction in Congress
Rep. Walden and Senators Wyden and Merkley are working together to develop a new Bowman Dam bill
March 11, 2013
Last year, federal Bowman Dam legislation gained considerable momentum as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill and the Senate considered a companion bill.
Both bills ultimately died at the end of 2012. Because the presidential election and fiscal cliff took center stage toward the end of the year, the 112th Congress concluded before lawmakers could address either bill.
“We had a golden opportunity to get this done last year, and it didn’t get done,” said Andrew Malcolm, press secretary for U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.).
Now, local leaders must once again wait for the House and Senate to introduce new legislation and hope that lawmakers finally pass it. As far as they are concerned, it can’t happen soon enough.
“We want it done,” said Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe. “We have been working on it for a very long time.”
The legislation would benefit the community by providing the City of Prineville with 5,100 acre-feet of currently unallocated water from Prineville Reservoir. In doing so, the City could leave the water in the Crooked River to mitigate for whatever groundwater they pump.
“We could start the process of applying to the State to get our mitigation credits, so that we can start pumping more out of the wells that we drilled last year (near the Prineville/Crook County Airport),” Roppe said.
The bill would also move the federal Wild and Scenic boundary for the Crooked River from the top of Bowman Dam to a location a quarter-mile downriver, enabling construction of a hydroelectric power plant.
At this time, no new legislation has emerged. However, in recent weeks, when Walden and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) held Crook County town halls, both congressmen said they were working together to create a bill that will pass both the House and the Senate. Wyden has also stated through his spokesman, Keith Chu, that he is working with Merkley and Walden to develop new legislation.
The first bill that the House passed in 2012 was approved unanimously by the House, but gained no traction in the Senate. Merkley later introduced a bill that mirrored the House bill only it made extra concessions for fish habitat in Crooked River. That legislation drew local criticism amid concerns that language in the bill could enable the Bureau of Reclamation to drain Prineville Reservoir.
Merkley and Walden have both said that they intend to address that concern as they work on a new bill, to ensure that the reservoir cannot be drained to the point where it harms recreational interests.
“We heard a lot of feedback on that question,” Merkley said during his February town hall. “No one in the original set of stakeholders envisioned that as an increased likelihood.”
For now, none of the congressmen working on Bowman Dam legislation has publicly offered a timeframe for the introduction of a new bill.
“These things take time,” Malcolm remarked. “You have different members in the House and Senate who have not heard this issue before, so they will have to take time to look at it.”
However, unlike the first go-around, Walden and Merkley can refer back to their previous bills as they work on a new one, which could speed up the process.
“It’s certainly helpful to have the blueprint,” Malcolm stated.
Meanwhile, as local leaders await a new bill, they will exercise patience in hopes that they will end up with the best legislation possible.
“We want it done as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to do it wrong,” Roppe stressed. “If it takes an extra month to keep it from being appealed, then it is to our benefit to be patient.”