Editorial: Find agreement on Bowman Dam

Published Jul 13, 2013 at 05:00AM

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s bill about the Bowman Dam near Prineville is a no-cost, clean energy, water quality-improver bit of legislation.

So what did the last Congress do with it?

It didn’t pass it.

Walden, a Republican from Hood River, has come back and introduced it again.

The bill has the heavy weight of common sense behind it, but any time there’s a discussion about how water is going to be used, there’s going to be a fight.

The new bill is identical to the old bill.

It authorizes the release of 5,100 acre-feet of unallocated water behind the dam. That’s key to Prineville getting permission to pump more groundwater for the city’s needs in the future. There are some 500 homes in the city that don’t get city water. Apple and Facebook have increased demand on the city’s system. And if Prineville wants to bring in those homes and build on bringing more tech companies to town, it’s going to need water.

The bill moves the boundary line for the Crooked River’s wild and scenic designation away from the dam. That’s key to opening up the possibility for a small hydropower facility near the dam. Walden’s great line is: “There’s nothing wild and scenic about a dam.”

The bill also authorizes the Ochoco Irrigation District to provide water to farms on McKay Creek. That’s key to restoring the creek.

Opponents and critics of the bill have concerns. They are worried it could be amended in the Senate to release more water and hurt recreation in the Prineville Reservoir. They are worried it doesn’t do enough for fish.

In the last session of Congress, the Senate version was similar to Walden’s. It tried to do more to address the concern about fish. How it did it, though, raised new concerns.

It said the government “shall store in and release from Prineville Reservoir all remaining stored water quantities for the benefit of downstream wildlife and fish.” That language would seem to leave the government vulnerable to lawsuits compelling it to release all or nearly all stored water, because couldn’t the argument be made that it would be for the benefit of fish and wildlife? We’ve heard officials say that’s not the intent, but with that kind of language it’s a very real possibility.

This Congress needs to find a better compromise than that.