Bill sponsor says no deal yet on Columbia water

Capital Press

Feb. 23, 2012

SALEM, ORE-- Hours after Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said he had reached an agreement with the sponsor of a bill to increase winter water withdrawls from the Columbia River, that legislator said there is no deal.

Amid reports a bill to increase the withdrawals was dead, Kitzhaber announced at a news conference that an agreement had been struck between the governor's staff and Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, chief sponsor of House Bill 4101.

But McLane later told the Capital Press that the two sides have not agreed on specific details.

"We agreed to a framework and to a process to get to agreement, but there is not agreement on the bill yet," McLane said. " We haven't got there yet, but we're still plugging away."

HB4101 calls for increasing 100,000 acre feet of irrigation water withdrawals from the mainstem of the Columbia River during high flow winter months for use in dry summer months.

In a private meeting with the Capital Press after the press conference, Kitzhaber said the deal had been struck moments before the 10 a.m. press conference. Details of the deal have not yet been released.

Kitzhaber told the Capital Press that he supports pulling more water from the Columbia River during high-flow winter months to boost summer irrigation supplies.

"I want to make this happen," he said. "With or without a bill, it just makes imminent sense."

Kitzhaber said he believes a key to the long-term success of the project is building a consensus among the conservation, agricultural and business communities.

"The concern I have is (the agricultural and business communities) have been a little confrontational with the conservation community," Kitzhaber said.

"And the problem is, the way that we're actually going to get this done is we've got to build a coalition, just like we're going to have to do around the O&C lands," Kitzhaber said, "because you have to go through a federal process. You have to go through a Washington (state) process. You've got to build an interstate compact.

"There are a gazillion ways people can screw that up with lawsuits," he said.

"The idea is to create this win-win on the front end. And there is a huge win-win here," he said.

Asked if he was prepared to put resources into water storage, Kitzhaber said: "This was a big issue of my campaign, developing off-stream storage, and we've got to do it.

"The real question is ... how do we get the capital investment to actually build that storage," he said.

"There are resources. There are resources that we are using for salmon recovery. I would argue that there is a linkage here," he said. "I think there are resources but we first have to get everybody on the same page that this is a good thing to do.

"I just think we can get a bill out of here," he said.

Kitzhaber said he plans to visit Eastern Oregon in April "and talk about the importance of this."