BEND, Ore. (AP) - The Tumalo Irrigation District has added an additional fee for patrons in anticipation of mounting legal costs associated with recently filed lawsuits over Oregon spotted frog habitat.
The district instituted a $175 fee this year for each water right account holder to help pay for litigation as well as for public relations during the court case.
“We got estimates from the communication teams and legal teams and came up with an idea of what it would cost us,” said Ken Rieck, the district manager.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Tumalo and other irrigation districts are being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon. The cases focus on Deschutes River flows and management of reservoirs. The two environmental groups first threatened legal action last summer.
The spotted frog has been listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bureau and irrigation districts manage Crescent Lake, Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs.
The Tumalo Irrigation District board, which is made up of five members, agreed on the $175 fee unanimously Jan. 12. The district has about 667 accounts, which add up to $116,725 expected to be set aside for lawsuit costs.
The Deschutes Basin Board of Control, a group of eight irrigation districts in Central Oregon, is proportionally dividing up costs for the court case among the districts.
Rieck said responding to the lawsuits is expected to be an “extraordinary expense.” He said the 2016 district budget was tight with little wiggle room to handle added legal costs.
“We’ll keep the accounting for the lawsuit separate, and if we’ve overcollected, we’ll return what we’ve overcollected,” Rieck said.
The Central Oregon Irrigation District, one of the others named in the federal suit, started collecting a $25 fee last year to help cover costs with the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, an assessment of future water needs and habitat conservation.
This year, the fee will go to defraying costs from the spotted frog litigation. The district manages two canals east of Bend that pass through Redmond and Terrebonne. It has about 3,600 patron accounts.
“It will barely even scratch the surface,” Shon Rae, the district’s project manager, said of the fee’s impact on paying for the lawsuits.
Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com
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