Crooked River

An angler makes a cast while fishing the Crooked River below the Bowman Dam.

“There’s nothing wild and scenic about a dam.” That quote from former Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River, was a near-perfect way to describe an imperfect government action.

It summed up a problem at Bowman Dam on the Crooked River near Prineville. And it’s a reason we continue to insist that Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley provide the public now with maps of their proposal to add more wild and scenic waterways in Oregon.

First, a brief bit about Bowman Dam and that quote. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act preserves certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the present and future. When the Bureau of Land Management drew the boundaries for the wild and scenic status on the Crooked River, it put the boundary right on top of the Bowman dam. You can’t necessarily blame the BLM. A 1988 act of Congress that added a section of the Crooked River does say “the 8-mile segment from Bowman Dam to Dry Creek.”

The wild and scenic status of Bowman Dam, though, killed the possibility of generating hydroelectricity at the dam. Whether or not you are a fan of hydropower and dams, there is … nothing wild and scenic about a dam. It took another act of Congress in 2014 to move the boundary off the dam.

We don’t know if maps clearly embedded in the 1988 Act showing which parts of the Crooked River Congress would declare wild and scenic would have made a difference. But, for us, it reinforces the idea that Oregonians need easy access to maps to know what Wyden and Merkley have in mind with their River Democracy Act.

The River Democracy Act would be the largest effort to add more miles of waterways as wild and scenic in the nation’s history. In its original form, it would add additional protections to 4,700 more miles of rivers and streams in Oregon. The pitch is: It’s protection for drinking water, for the environment, for recreation, for wildfire resilience and so much more. It sounds fantastic.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, the state’s only Republican representative to Congress, though, has raised a challenge. He sent a letter to every county commissioner in his district detailing his concerns. He and others are concerned there was a lack of consultation with local officials about the bill. He and others are concerned what a new layer of regulation will mean to property and activities near the waterways. He also brought up the issue of providing clear maps, as we have in the past.

Hank Stern, Wyden’s spokesman, said recently that the bill includes legal descriptions of all the waterways that would be included. And that’s fine. But Oregonians can’t really tell what the bill is talking about without seeing the maps first. We emailed Wyden’s office about this a few weeks ago and did not receive a response.

“Maps will be finalized well before the Senate votes on the bill, and be made immediately available,” Stern told our sister publication, the Capital Press.

Why do Oregonians have to wait to see maps of how a bill will impact them? The bill was announced in February.

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