- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - An adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber says officials are close to a deal that would allow Eastern Oregon farmers to pump more irrigation water from the Columbia River.

Conservation groups and Eastern Oregon officials have been negotiating a deal that could give farmers access to more water while allowing groundwater aquifers to recharge.

Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director, Richard Whitman, said a tentative agreement could be just weeks away.

“We are very close to an agreement that will provide significant expansion of irrigation agriculture, with environmental interests on board,” Whitman told the East Oregonian (https://bit.ly/1xOzz2X ).

If successful, the deal could allow farmers to grow higher-value crops near Hermiston and Boardman, pumping more money into the local economy.

The Northeast Oregon Water Association, a business group that’s seeking the deal, hopes to get water rights adding up to 500 cubic feet per second of water from the Columbia, which it would pump into three critical groundwater areas spanning 40 miles of river from the Port of Morrow to just east of Hermiston.

The law requires the new irrigation be mitigated with water going back into the river in order to protect endangered fish runs. The water association is working with environmental groups to identify projects that can satisfy the mitigation needs.

That takes time, but Northeast Oregon Water Association director J.R. Cook is confident it will pay dividends.

“People start to get it, that this is a much bigger benefit than just our northeast Oregon neck of the woods,” he said. “Just having that dialogue with folks … it doesn’t mean they’ll agree with everything we propose, but the best part is they understand it and they can make a weighted opinion on it down the road.”

Bipartisan political backing will be important next year when it comes to funding any new water projects. It is likely the governor’s budget will include some resources to help the Columbia River supply start flowing, Whitman said. He declined to get into specifics, but said part of the funding could come from the $10 million Water Supply Development Account created by the Legislature in 2013.

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Information from: East Oregonian, https://www.eastoregonian.info


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