Farmers say no to water
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,
"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
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
Wally Otto, reservoir superintendent of Tualatin
Valley Irrigation District, said the district
considers water measuring an important tool in its
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,
"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