WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. announced Thursday that the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill includes language that could help Central Oregon farmers maintain access to water supplies while protecting endangered species.
The provision urges the Bureau of Reclamation to provide additional funds for the WaterSmart program, to fund projects that will help irrigation districts comply with the Endangered Species Act and that support collaborative approaches and reduce conflict, including litigation.
(That is a reference to the ongoing lawsuit filed by two conservation groups against five irrigation districts and the BoR alleging mismanagement of Deschutes River water flows.)
The WaterSmart program could support the collaborative process that is underway within Central Oregon to conserve water, improve the habitat of the spotted frog and keep Central Oregon family farms in business.
“Agriculture is a key economic driver in Central Oregon,” Merkley said. “The collaborative process that is unfolding in Central Oregon to address the loss of habitat for the spotted frog is remarkable and the language included in today’s appropriations bill is a step in the right direction to save family farms while protecting habitat and conserving water.”
In January, Merkley met with irrigation leaders in Central Oregon to discuss the ways in which irrigation districts are working with conservationists and federal, state, local and tribal governments to address the loss of habitat for the spotted frog and ways in which we can fund water conservation projects or habitat improvement projects.
“Today’s committee passage of this legislation could help bring millions of dollars to needed collaborative conservation projects in the Deschutes basin that will help preserve our agricultural economy and improve habitat for wildlife and fish,” said Mike Britton, manager of the North Unit Irrigation District. “We thank Senator Merkley for his leadership on this important issue.”
The bill was voted out of committee Thursday on a bipartisan vote. The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the House in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.