Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2437 on Aug. 9, despite an earlier threat to veto the measure that will allow better management of irrigation drainage ditches.
It was the right thing to do, despite the criticism her action has gotten from the usual environmental suspects. She was also right to spare money for a dam project in Newport from a line-item veto.
The ditch cleaning bill was the work of the Oregon Farm Bureau, farmers, the state departments of fish and wildlife, state lands and agriculture, and environmental groups Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited and others. It makes keeping drainage ditches in good working order easier, and it will apply largely to land in the productive Willamette Valley.
Farmers will be able to remove as many as 3,000 cubic yards of material per mile of ditch over a five-year period, up from the current 50 cubic yards annually. Too, material removed cannot be stored permanently on wetlands, and ditches that have been designated as critical to anadromous salmonids (members of the salmon family that travel from the ocean in freshwater streams) will be off limits.
The new law replaces one that was complex, expensive, and not well known, and makes life a bit easier for farmers in the state’s most important agricultural region.
As for the Newport dams, the city of Newport will get $4 million to work on repairing or replacing the Big Creek Dams there, which are not earthquake safe and are the city’s only source of drinking water. Brown had argued a statewide survey of dams was needed first, but changed her mind. Loss of the state funds could have jeopardized federal funds necessary to rebuild the dams, supporters say.
In the end, Brown spared money and measures that had bipartisan support in the Legislature — something that was scarce in the 2019 session.