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Senate panel hears Crooked River water bill


Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., applauded a Senate hearing Thursday — that moves the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 one step closer to passage.

The senators said the bill is based on an agreement that the senators facilitated among a broad coalition of stakeholders in the region.

They said it would provide a framework for improving the management of water in the Crooked River, while creating opportunities for economic growth and new jobs in Central Oregon.

Thursday’s hearing was held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“The Crooked River stakeholders have worked hard to come together and hammer out a deal,” said Merkley. “I am pleased that today we have moved one step closer to fulfilling their vision and harnessing the full economic power of Central Oregon while improving habitat for iconic salmon, steelhead, and trout fisheries in the Crooked River.”

“Sen. Merkley has been the go-to person for bringing the stakeholders together over these challenging water issues and without him we wouldn’t have this bill to end 40 years of paralysis,” Wyden said. “This bill provides Crook County the certainty it needs to expand jobs while protecting important habitat for endangered fish.”

The Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 would provide numerous benefits to water users and the Central Oregon region, by:

Meeting the municipal water needs for the city of Prineville long into the future;
Providing greater certainty for the agricultural community that depends on the Crooked River for irrigation;
Allowing water in the Prineville Reservoir to be managed to help sustain a healthy steelhead, salmon and trout fisheries, which are cherished by local fishermen;
Allowing the Bowman Dam to be retrofitted to install a hydroelectric turbine and generate low-cost, clean power and create construction jobs;
Creating a process to help better plan for dry years, in terms of the impact on fish habitat and fishing, as well as boating and other recreational activities.

This legislation is endorsed by the City of Prineville, Crook County, the governor of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, American Rivers, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control (representing all seven major irrigation districts in Central Oregon), NW Steelheaders, the Ochocoand North Unit Irrigation Districts, Portland General Electric, Trout Unlimited and WaterWatch.

Two other Oregon bills also had hearings Thursday, one to upgrade Scoggins Dam to provide certainty for Washington County employers. They are a bill to extend the Bureau of Reclamation’s Safety of Dams program (S. 1946) and the Marine Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act (S. 1419).

The next step for all three bills is a vote before the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Wyden is the former chairman and a senior member of the committee.

“Together, these bills will enhance economic certainty for Washington County residents and businesses, and ensure that Central Oregon has the water it needs to fuel an expanding high-tech sector and grow jobs, not just for a few years, but for decades,” Wyden said. “These bills will provide communities with assurances that federal facilities like Scoggins Dam get the safety upgrades they so badly need.”

“We are moving forward on an issue that is critically important to communities across Oregon, and that is ensuring that dams like the Scoggins Dam receive vital safety upgrades as they age,” Merkley said. “Arbitrary federal limits should not stand in the way of repairs and improvements that could save lives in the event of an earthquake.”

The subcommittee welcomed Oregon’s Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, who testified on Wyden’s bill (S. 1946) to extend the Bureau of Reclamation’s Safety of Dams program. The bill will improve the infrastructure of dams across the western United States, including Scoggins Dam in Washington County, and provide much-needed economic certainty for the region. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, joined Wyden and Merkley in introducing the bill earlier this year.

Members also heard from Dr. Belinda Batten, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University, who testified on the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act. Wyden and Merkley, along with Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Angus King, I-Maine, and Schatz, introduced S. 1419 to streamline the regulatory process and encourage research and development of renewable energy from waves, currents, ocean tides and free-flowing water in lakes and rivers.

Oregon State University, in partnership with the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, has been a world leader in developing wave energy technology. Researchers at OSU are currently testing the potential of wave energy generation at the nation’s first wave energy test site in Newport.

“The Marine Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act will build on the trailblazing work Oregon State University is already doing to harness renewable energy from ocean wave technology and help the United States stay competitive when it comes to the forgotten renewables like hydropower ,” Wyden said.

“Oregon is known as an innovative state and our innovation in ocean wave technology is no exception. We should be expanding on the groundbreaking work OSU has done and this bill will help do just that,” Merkley said.

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