They call it 'Oasis Project' for a reason
Legislation holds promise of economic life in northeast
Oregon high desert
editorial goes out to two groups of people: First, the folks
who do most of the working, playing and dying in northeast
Oregon, and secondly, the group of lawmakers who soon will
make a choice that will significantly affect everybody in
the first group.
To the people
A bill is making its way through the Legislature that, at
first glance, has little consequence to any of you. At least
until you look at the bigger picture.
The legislation is known as the Oasis Bill, which would make
up to 300,000 acre feet of additional water from the
Columbia River available to new or existing farms and
businesses, allowing irrigation of an additional 100,000
acres of farmland in the northeast part of the state.
While the temptation may be to shrug off this legislation as
irrelevant , the truth is that as the agriculture economy
goes in northeast Oregon, so goes the number of jobs,
business expansions and the stability of the region.
Do you work at a Main Street retail store? You'd better give
this issue some attention. Do you work at a farm-supply
business? This is about you.
Because when the agricultural economy thrives, so do
employers who reap the benefits of increased sales and
better profits, which allow for new investment. To the other
extreme, when the ag economy stagnates or declines, your
employers soon feel the pinch and start looking for cost
savings and consider work force reductions.
There is no question the Oasis legislation holds promise for
everyone in northeast Oregon who puts their faith in an
economy anchored by agriculture.
To the lawmakers
The House of Representatives has passed this bill and sent
it on to the Senate, where it's not expected to receive a
warm welcome. In fact, the bill wasn't strongly embraced in
the House where it passed with a 35-22 vote. And with no
surprise, lawmakers on the west side of the state were the
most vocal in their opposition.
As to the lawmakers in the Senate who may take the lead from
opposition in the House, this is not a special interest
Initially it may benefit those who operate irrigated farms,
but the tentacles of this economic surge eventually will
embrace the entire region. And with all due respect to the
House members from Oregon populous west side, the combined
residents of Umatilla, Morrow and Gilliam counties number in
excess of 85,000. That number hardly represents "only a few"
who will benefit. All of them stand to gain from a growing
and thriving economy.
To the governor
Assuming the bill makes it through the Senate with
amendments, Gov. Ted Kulongoski has said he will veto the
bill. We in Eastern Oregon think that would be a big
mistake. We know the governor doesn't like this bill because
it doesn't fit with his vision for aquifer recharge. We know
he worries about the equity of diverting more water from the
Columbia River at the risk of offending neighbors in
Washington and Idaho, as well as the Confederated Tribes of
the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
But Gov. Kulongoski hasn't done much to move this region in
the direction of aquifer recharge. And while the state of
Washington moves ahead with long-range planning to divert
more water from the Columbia, we in Eastern Oregon can ill
afford to worry about offending the fine residents of the
This bill holds promise of adding tens of millions of
dollars annually to the economy of northeast Oregon, all
from a quantity of water that amounts to a microscopic drop
in the barrel that represents the Columbia River.
And if the governor pulls out his veto pen, the East
Oregonian will expect an op-ed from the governor detailing
the urgent steps he intends to pursue over the next three
years to move his aquifer recharge agenda off the dime.
We won't be satisfied with well-rehearsed political
double-speak. We'll expect an op-ed that tells all of us
what he intends to do as the leader of our state government
to aggressively pursue his alternatives to the Oasis
Back to the people
As to those who do most of the working, playing and dying in
this region, if you're satisfied with where this legislation
is headed, by all means stay silent. But if you care about
future prosperity, you will speak your mind by calling your
Senate representation and the governor's office, pleading
for passage of this crucial piece of legislation.