Walden, Merkley get Bowman Dam right

The designation of Bowman Dam near Prineville as “wild and scenic” reeked of nonsense. It earned its place in Valhalla as one of the worst jokes that the federal government has inflicted on Central Oregon.

But thanks to the efforts of Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the nonsense seems nearly over.

Congress declared in 1988 that 17-plus miles of the Crooked River was “wild and scenic.” Development was prohibited.

Then in 1993, someone drew a line right through the middle of Bowman Dam declaring that was the beginning of the wild-and-scenic stretch of the Crooked River. The dam was in essence declared wild and scenic.

That illogic didn’t really matter until 2003. That’s when an Idaho company proposed building a hydropower plant at the dam. It couldn’t. Hydro power plant and wild and scenic do not mix.

The Bureau of Land Management talked about moving the boundary line. It never did.

It was not a simple fix for Congress, either. There are competing needs for the water behind Bowman Dam.

Irrigators want certainty. The city of Prineville has concerns about its future water supply. Boaters and other recreational users worry about the levels in the reservoir. And there is also habitat for fish and wildlife to be considered.

Striking the right balance between those competing interests took years. Earlier proposals struck the wrong balance by declaring release of “all remaining stored water quantities for the benefit of downstream fish and wildlife.” The new compromise legislation passed by the House and Senate on Thursday does much better.

Please sign the bill, President Obama.