Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers

by WaterWatch of Oregon
Aug 26, 2011

Legislative Attacks Successfully Defended

The Oregon Legislature is winding to a June finish
The Oregon Legislature is winding to a June finish

The 2011 Oregon Legislature:  River Protections Survive Multiple Attacks. 

Despite an evenly divided House and a long slate of bills that attempted to eliminate or undermine longstanding river protection laws, we can happily report that not a single bad water bill was signed into law in the 2011 Legislative session. During the 2011 session, WaterWatch was again on the front lines and addressed over 30 water bills. We successfully killed several bad bills in committee. Of the few water and river bills that moved through the House and Senate to the Governor’s desk, WaterWatch and its allies successfully negotiated protections to prevent erosion of existing standards or damage to Oregon’s beloved rivers. 

A sampling of the legislative concepts WaterWatch addressed in 2011 includes:

Hydropower and water---reducing environmental protections. The 2011 session produced several bills aimed at rolling back existing environmental protections in the name of new power and profits for special interests. For instance, HB 2873 sought to prohibit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from requiring fish passage, fish screening or fish bypass devices when an in-conduit hydro project is developed on an existing irrigation canal or diversion dam – some of which lack fish passage, fish screening or bypass devices entirely or otherwise fail to that comply with state law in these areas. In conduit hydro projects already receive multiple tax credits and other preferences. This bill would have added to the list of special interest giveaways on these projects. While the bill died in the senate, we anticipate seeing this legislative concept again soon. 

Other bills in this area included HB 2992, which attempted to remove all environmental protections and incentives regarding use of hydropower to meet Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); HB 2864, which would have allowed old, environmentally damaging hydropower dams to qualify as “renewable”: and HB 2603 would have declared it that it is Oregon’s state policy to “encourage, enable and foster” development of “all types of power”, with no balancing policy statement regarding the importance of sustainability, environmental protection, renewable sources or energy conservation.  None of these flawed bills passed through the Legislature.

Weakening Columbia River protections: Like clockwork, every session irrigation interests attempt to eviscerate longstanding Columbia River fish protection laws. This year was no exception. HB 3509 would have given away Columbia River water to underground storage projects during months that imperiled migrating fish need adequate streamflows. Similarly, SB 190 attempted to give away thirty million acre feet of Columbia River water in a manner contrary to existing fish protection laws. Both bills failed but continued the flawed political calculation by some irrigation interests that Oregonians are willing to throw imperiled Columbia River fish under the bus to enrich a few well-connected irrigation interests in the Umatilla region.

The fail to plan and plan to fail bill: HB 3087 tried to eliminate further work on Oregon’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy. In 2009 WaterWatch was instrumental in passage of HB 3369, which, among other things, called for the development of an integrated plan to meet Oregon’s future instream and out-of-stream water needs. This bill would have stopped the ongoing planning effort.   

Stalling efforts to protect water for Willamette Basin fisheries: HB 3165 would have burdened and delayed, perhaps indefinitely, federal and state agency efforts to gain both access and legal protection for water released from Willamette Basin Project reservoirs for imperiled salmon.  Two federal agencies weighed in with concerns, which helped with the bill’s eventual demise. 

Undermining the state’s water management authority: The 2011 session also a number of special interest bills aimed at undercutting the state’s ability to manage water within irrigation districts (SB 847, SB 848, HB 3459) or govern permitting decisions in select areas (SB 589).  All of these died without much fanfare.

Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation: Governor Kitzhaber did sign HB 3623. This bill extends the Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation Program, a program that helps protect streamflows in the Deschutes River and its tributaries from the effects of new groundwater pumping in the basin.  After a number of amendments, agreement was reached to extend the program for 15 years. The Water Resources Department must report to the Legislature every five years on the overall effectiveness of the program and other specific areas. In the end, the bill preserves the existing program, but also leaves room for improvement outside of the legislative arena. This will continue to be of high priority to WaterWatch.  WaterWatch’s action alerts on this bill generated a huge response that helped dramatically improve the legislation. Thank you WW members!

Budget Issues: WaterWatch also joined a wide variety of stakeholders in pushing for support of the Water Resources Department budget.  These efforts paid off. The Governor’s proposed budget for the agency passed and a number of key water management and science positions were restored as budget “add backs”. Adequate funding of the Water Resources Department is critical to the long-term protection of Oregon’s rivers

For more information please contact: Jim Myron, WaterWatch lobbyist, or Kimberley Priestley,



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WaterWatch of Oregon

Location: Portland, Oregon - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
John DeVoe
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