On May 25, the Oregon Water Coalition hosted its annual membership meeting at the Hermiston Conference Center. In total, 34 OWC members, local representatives, and speakers were present at the meeting. OWC president Bill Porfily opened the meeting at 8:15am, welcoming attendees and giving brief updates on the Coalition, including its recent change in designation from a 501(c)(6) to a 501(c)(3) and its decision to hire a coordinator at the beginning of this year. After these brief updates, Bill introduced the first speaker, David Filippi.
David Filippi is an attorney at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland. He opened the conference by providing an update on water-related legislation in Oregon, as well as other developments nationwide that could have an impact at the local level. He provided an overview of the pending litigation against Westland Irrigation District, and briefly mentioned the development of new rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin (further explained by OWRD's Justin Iverson later in the program). David highlighted some general themes in Oregon State water legislation this year--namely measurement and monitoring, introducing fees for water rights holders, and a focus on groundwater studies. These themes correspond to bills HB 2705, 2706, 2707, respectively. He also touched on SB 865, which would require cities and counties to inform irrigation districts about planned subdivisions, passed the House and Senate. Local Republican Senator Bill Hansell is the chief sponsor of this bill. Another topic of interest David noted was the brewing disagreement between Idaho and Oregon over reintroduction of threatened fish above the Hells Canyon Dam. Among a few points about actions at the federal level, he drew attention to the Bureau of Reclamation's Public-Private Partnerships program (P3). The program announced the release of a “Request for Information” seeking feedback on potential water resource projects for public-private partnerships.
JR Cook, director of NOWA and member of OWC's board of directors, gave an update on the regional water supply projects and his organization's work in the Umatilla Basin. In the near future, NOWA's focus will turn more pointedly towards the East and West pipeline projects, with a continued focus on establishing a mitigation program. NOWA is also working to develop a basalt banking pilot test project to assess the feasibility of recharge efforts in the Umatilla Basin. Beyond NOWA's efforts directly, JR discussed Washington State's targeted infrastructure investment program for the Columbia River and its major tributaries. Establishing a similar program for large mainstem basins in Oregon could be very beneficial to make funds available for water projects.
The final speaker was Justin Iverson, ground water section manager for OWRD. He provided a background on the rulemaking process and recently revised rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin. The May 11 revisions designated the subbasin as a "serious groundwater management problem area" and require the metering and reporting of water use from permitted basalt aquifers. Water levels have significantly declined across the region, with a 100 foot decline in basalt aquifers and a 15 foot decline of alluvial aquifers since 1950. As part of the rulemaking process, OWRD held seven public meetings and worked with local stakeholders. Walla Walla Subbasin groundwater management priorities are divided into two phases. In Phase One, the basin will be closed to further groundwater allocation, measurements of basalt aquifer water use must be reported by users, and there will be an increased push for data collection. In Phase Two, the goal is to see a stabilization of groundwater levels and encourage the creation of a water supply plan that is "voluntary, community-based, long term, holistic".
The OWC would like to thank all those who attended the event, with special thanks to the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce for providing space and Desert Springs Bottled Water for providing food for attendees.
To read the East Oregonian's recap of the event, please click here