A bill Oregon farmers had hoped would allow them to draw water from the Columbia River, the Oregon Water Bill, failed earlier this week in the state legislature, leaving farmers scrambling to find new sources of water.
Despite popular images to the contrary, farmers in eastern Oregon say that they face reoccurring water shortages. According to a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau, “I think part of the challenge is, most folks think of Oregon — on the west side, at least — as a place that rains a lot so we don’t have water-shortage issues.”
The bill in question would have directed state water officials to pursue new water supplies through conservation, reuse, and storage measures. It also would have required them to draw an extra 100,000 acre-feet of water for agricultural use.
Conservation groups were worried about the ambiguity of the bill’s language. In particular, they worried that the new requirements would lead to farmers siphoning off water from the Columbia River during low flow periods, endangering aquatic wildlife and migrating salmon. They also argued that the bill was unnecessary because excess water was being used to refill aquifers in eastern Oregon.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber had offered tepid statements in support of the water bill, claiming that he is open to discussion and scientific exploration.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer