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Farmers say no to water measuring

Supporters say legislation is vital to conservation, control

Mitch Lies Capital Press 3/2/07

SALEM - Farmers and ranchers from across Oregon flooded the Capitol Feb. 21 to oppose a bill requiring water-use measurement, saying House Bill 2564 is costly and will provide little, if any, benefit.

"This bill is a costly solution in search of a problem," Water for Life President Glenn Barrett said in sizing up what many in the audience believed.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, would require water users to install and maintain water-measurement devices at all points of diversion and to measure and report water use to the state.

Barrett, a rancher in Bonanza, Ore., testified before the House Energy and Environment Committee that it would cost $284,000 to install the necessary equipment to measure water use on the 500 acres he irrigates.

Mac Kerns, an Eastern Oregon rancher who testified over the phone, said installing measuring devices on the 4,600 points of diversion in Baker County would cost ranchers - who already are struggling to earn a living - nearly $7 million.

In addition, he said, the state would be forced to spend upward of $200,000 annually to collect data from Baker County, and the county would lose more than $1.3 million in tax revenue.

And, Kerns said, water masters have the authority to require users to measure their water use - and frequently do so in cases where they deem it necessary to manage an area's water.

Currently, the state measures about 46 percent of the water used in Oregon, the department testified in the hearing.

The bill, while unpopular among dozens of farmers and ranchers in Salem Feb. 21, drew some supporters.

Wally Otto, reservoir superintendent of Tualatin Valley Irrigation District, said the district considers water measuring an important tool in its conservation efforts.

And John Barkley of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation said the tribes believe water quantity is at the heart of the complex problems surrounding water availability.

"How can we ever expect to fix that problem when we don't know how much water is being taken out of our rivers and streams?" he asked.

John DeVoe of WaterWatch also said water measurement was a key ingredient in the state's ability to conserve water.

Most, however, including a state senator, were at odds with the bill. "There is little need for House Bill 2564 and less benefit, but the cost will be enormous," said Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.

"Virtually all of the water that is used today is measured by the amount of the diversion people are allowed to use," Whitsett said. "If you make measuring mandatory, you might on a rare instance catch someone using more water at one time than they are supposed to use, but more likely, you would find that people are using less water than they are allowed."

After the two-hour hearing, Dingfelder appointed Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, to head a work group to look into the proposal.

Dingfelder said she viewed the bill as a starting point for discussing water measurement. The work group will present options to the committee in a future meeting, Dingfelder said.

Among ideas the committee will consider is whether to conduct a pilot program in a water-quantity limited basin, Dingfelder said.

It was apparent Feb. 21 that nothing short of completely abandoning the bill would appease the farmers and ranchers who traveled from the far corners of Oregon to testify against HB2564.

Mitch Lies is based in Salem. His e-mail address is mlies@capitalpress.com.

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