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Kitzhaber Backs Columbia Withdrawals

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, March 1, 2012

Bill that would increase irrigation supplies gets stuck in committee

SALEM -- Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said he supports increasing winter water withdrawals from the Columbia River for use as summer irrigation supplies for Eastern Oregon farmers.

Kitzhaber's support surfaced as lawmakers, conservationists and farmers were haggling over sticking points of House Bill 4101, which calls for 100,000 acre-feet of new winter water withdrawals from the Columbia River.

In an interview with the Capital Press, Kitzhaber said: "I want to make this happen. With or without a bill, it just makes imminent sense."

Kitzhaber made it clear he will continue to support efforts to add more irrigation supplies to Eastern Oregon's arid landscape regardless of the success or failure of HB4101.

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, chief sponsor of HB4101, said he also plans to push for the withdrawals beyond this session.

"If we can't get (HB4101 passed), I'll be disappointed," McLane said, "but I am going to move forward (on the issue) in 2013."

HB4101 would provide irrigation supplies for 30,000 acres in Eastern Oregon, and create 1,400 jobs, according to bill backers.

Kitzhaber was confident on Feb. 23 that the bill would pass, but as the 2012 legislative session was winding to a close this week, that optimism appears misplaced. The bill was mired in House Rules Committee as of press deadline Feb. 29.

Consensus behind the bill collapsed around "sticky points of the negotiation," according to Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

"What we need is support to back up the ability to get to that 100,000 acre-feet," Fast said. "I think that is where the challenge is." How to do the development, and getting momentum on making that development happen are the other pieces of the bill, she said.

Still, Kitzhaber's support for the withdrawals is significant, Fast said.

"It is not going to put any water on the ground this year, but it is a building block for future legislative sessions to continue the work on this issue and actually get economic development for agriculture," Fast said.

Kitzhaber said a key to the long-term success of the project is building consensus among the conservation and 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 ... 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.

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

Mitch Lies
Kitzhaber Backs Columbia Withdrawals
Capital Press, March 1, 2012

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