Merkley, Walden Deliver Crooked River Victory for Central Oregon

WASHINGTON – This holiday season, Central Oregon will have one more reason to celebrate: In the final moments of the 113th Congress, major legislation implementing improved water management in Central Oregon has been passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Greg Walden announced today.

The bill passed the Senate yesterday afternoon and the House late last night. With the legislation now cleared through both houses of Congress, it will go to the President’s desk to be signed into law, delivering Central Oregon a major victory in improved water certainty and a stronger foundation for economic growth and job creation.  

“This is huge news for Prineville and the entire region,” said Merkley. “After more than forty years of debate, we are now entering a new era in Central Oregon water management: one that will be known for collaboration, innovation, and job creation. With a community-driven plan that ensures water for economic growth and a healthy river, this agreement shows exactly how we should be getting things done, by working together and bridging divides to create a better future for all. My thanks go out to Congressman Walden and Senator Wyden, and most of all to the community members who brought us this bold vision for a win-win future and the determination to get it done.”

“The Central Oregon jobs and water plan is now on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The entire community—including elected officials, community leaders, farmers, fishermen, tribes—worked hard to get this done. The end result is more water certainty and more jobs for Prineville and the region as a whole. I’ll continue working with Central Oregon’s communities to grow the economy, create good paying jobs, and ensure water certainty,” Walden said.

Senator Merkley and Representative Walden have been working intensely to agree on legislation and, along with Senator Wyden, Senator Lisa Murkowski of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Rep. Doc Hastings of the House Natural Resources Committee, to secure passage in both houses of Congress. The legislation will implement the collaborative water management vision developed by stakeholders throughout the community.

“The Senate’s passage of this legislation shows everyone what we’ve long known, Senator Merkley is a true Oregon leader,” said Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe. “His hard work with Congressman Greg Walden will benefit Oregon’s economy and environment, especially here in Prineville.”

“Greg Walden and Jeff Merkley have taken an incredible step forward with this legislation for our community,” said Crook County Judge Mike McCabe. “This legislation will create jobs, attract investment and improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Crooked River.  These men are two of the best in Congress.” 

“Central Oregon farmers and ranchers owe our thanks to Jeff Merkley and Greg Walden,” said Ochoco Irrigation District Chairman Brian Barney. “For any farmer or rancher, the certainty of your water supply is critical. Their bill strengthens our water supply certainty not just for our generation, but for future generations to come, and it improves steelhead habitat. Their work together is impressive.”

“The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs applaud Senator Merkley’s and Congressman Walden’s tireless work to strike the right balance of water in the Crooked River,” said Tribal Council Chairman Eugene Austin Greene.

“Many said it could not be done, but irrigators, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and conservationists came together to craft a uniquely collaborative solution to a 50 year-old challenge of water management in the Wild and Scenic Crooked River,” said David Moryc of American Rivers.  “Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, and Congressman Walden deserve credit for supporting this balanced approach, that provides certainty for water users while putting more needed water for recreation and trout in the Crooked River.”

“Working together, local stakeholders are making huge strides to restore salmon and steelhead to the Crooked,” said Kate Miller of Trout Unlimited. “These native fish have incredible value for anglers, local communities, and our recreation economy and quality of life. This legislation creates valuable new opportunities to improve conditions for these wild fisheries in a manner that supports local irrigators and enhances opportunities for local business and economic development. We thank Senator Merkley and Congressman Walden for their strong leadership in promoting collaborative solutions for the Crooked River.”

“WaterWatch’s vision for the Crooked River includes enough water released from Bowman dam to restore downstream flows for imperiled steelhead and other fish,” said Kimberley Priestley of WaterWatch. “This bill paves a path forward to making this vision a reality. We thank Jeff Merkley for his leadership and his dedication to this effort.”

The legislation will provide numerous benefits to water users and the Central Oregon region by:

  • Meeting the municipal water needs for the city of Prineville long into the future so the city can continue to attract new businesses like data centers that require reliable water supplies;
  • Providing greater certainty for the agricultural community that depends on the Crooked River for irrigation;
  • Allowing water to be released from Bowman Dam to help maintain healthy steelhead, salmon and trout fisheries, which are cherished by local fishermen;
  • Moving the federal wild and scenic river boundary from the top of the dam, fixing an administrative error that has blocked efforts to retrofit Bowman Dam to generate clean hydroelectric power; and
  • Creating a process to help better plan for dry years, in terms of the impact on fish habitat and fishing, as well as boating and other recreational activities.