Merkley Joins with Central Oregon Irrigators to Discuss Water Conservation Progress

BEND, OR – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley joined with Central Oregon irrigators and fish and wildlife advocates in Bend to highlight progress that is being made on water conservation in the upper Deschutes Basin. The gathering discussed how federal funding that Merkley is fighting for can further support efforts to conserve water and benefit both local farmers and ranchers and fish and wildlife.

At a time when Central Oregon’s water resources are under greater strain than ever, improving efficiency through canal piping has great potential to conserve water in a way that is beneficial to all users. Today, local irrigators and others working on water conservation in the region joined Senator Merkley at a canal piping project site to look directly at how improvements in canal piping can help save water.

“There’s an old saying in the West: ‘Whiskey, that’s for drinking; water, that’s for fighting,’” said Merkley. “But here in Central Oregon, stakeholders are working together to create a brighter future for all. Their work should be commended, and I’ll keep working to make sure the federal government is a full partner as they move forward. Especially in times of drought, water is a precious resource, and it’s up to us to work creatively to make the most of the water resources we have. These canal piping projects are an impressive example of smart local collaboration on a tough problem, and I’m proud to be working in DC to support these important efforts.”

“We appreciate Senator Merkley’s support and efforts to secure federal funding for conservation efforts on behalf of COID and the Deschutes Basin. We are committed to working with our partners and elected officials to find solutions that benefit farms, fish and families in the Deschutes Basin,” said Craig Horrell, Manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. 

“Deschutes Basin collaborative work has shown that modernization of irrigation practices can provide water to restore our rivers. The projects are complex and costly. Major investments are required, but these will be rewarded by immediate as well as long-term benefits for all: farms, cities, every resident and the environment. Thank you Senator Merkley for securing federal support for the future of Central Oregon,” said Michael Tripp, President of the Deschutes Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations and Environment and Public Works Committees, and the Ranking Member of the Senate’s Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley has been a key figure in the fight to secure support and funding for projects such as these.

Earlier this year, Merkley succeeded in securing $150 million in new funding for the Watershed and Floor Prevention Operations Program in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that passed the full Appropriations committee. He also secured a provision for increased support for the WaterSMART program in the Senate Energy and Water bill that passed on the Senate floor. He is pushing for those provisions to become law when Congress reconvenes after the election to finalize spending bills for 2017. 

Additionally, Merkley is working to include a provision in the final House and Senate version of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act that would restore low-cost financing options for irrigation districts to pursue water infrastructure projects like canal piping.