The Oregon Water Coalition marked its 2018 Annual Meeting with a new venue and record attendance. Traditionally hosted at the Hermiston Conference Center, this year's meeting took up residence in the new Precision Irrigated Agriculture building at the Hermiston Agricultural & Research Extension Center. Around sixty people packed into the conference room to socialize, listen to speakers, and enjoy breakfast and refreshments donated by Desert Springs Bottled Water Co. The meeting doubled as B2B event through a partnership with the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce.
OWC president Ray Kopacz opened the meeting by providing updates from the past year and by reaffirming the Board of Directors and officers with a vote. His remarks included thank-yous to OWC partners and sponsors, namely OWC members, Desert Springs Bottled Water Co, the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, Umatilla Electric Co-op, and the Northeast Oregon Water Association. After Ray's welcome, Phil Hamm, director of HAREC, took a few minutes to explain an upcoming ballot measure that would create extension service districts in Umatilla and Morrow Counties. The measure, up for a vote in May, aims to provide a stable source of funding for extension services in the each county.
The first set of presentations for the morning consisted of updates from around the region. Miff Devin, Water Quality Supervisor at the Port of Morrow(POM), provided an overview of the recharge project and nitrate monitoring and dilution projects at POM. Byron Smith, City Manager of Hermiston, walked attendees through a recent history of the city's wastewater treatment plant and partnership with West Extension Irrigation District to deliver treated water to their canal during the winter. Russ Pelleberg, City Manager of Umatilla, discussed efforts by Umatilla to develop a similar partnership. However, the source this time is water that is being utilized by the growing number of data centers in the area. Treated water could then be added to the West Extension canal. These two topics were covered in more detail by the East Oregonian in an article that also appeared in the Capital Press and on Oregon Public Broadcasting's website.
Following these updates, JR Cook, Director of the Northeast Oregon Water Association (NOWA), provided updates about two ongoing NOWA projects. The first undertaking he highlighted was an economic impact study focused on the Mid-Columbia Basin, which will be funded by the Oregon Business Council and executed by the ECONorthwest. The study will focus the economic value of water for the counties contained in the Mid-Columbia region and lay the groundwork for identifying feasible partnership opportunities among Umatilla, Morrow, Union, Wallowa, and Baker Counties. The study will be similar in scope to one recently completed in the Yakima Basin. As the project is in its preliminary stages, a critical component will be continued dialogue with stakeholders. The study will reinforce NOWA's goal of identifying mitigation opportunities for Columbia River water rights through equitable partnerships across northeastern Oregon. The final portion of Cook's presentation focused on a more localized effort: establishing a system to safeguard and recover aquifer levels in the Umatilla Basin's Critical Groundwater Areas. NOWA would like to see the development of a "basalt bank" that would take pressures off the groundwater. As cities continue to grow--largely due to the economic opportunity brought about by agriculture--they will necessarily be competing with the farming industry that sustains them. NOWA's plan envisions a kind of trust account that could lease Columbia River water to agricultural users at a cost comparable to the cost of pumping groundwater. This would allow some users to reduce or eliminate groundwater pumping, thereby giving basalt aquifers the chance to recover over time. Development of such a program presents a variety of hurdles, and as a preliminary step, NOWA would like to establish a Basalt Bank Task Force to help develop rules and practices for a successful system. NOWA is seeking support from the Governor's Office to create the task force. Find a general overview of the project here.
Attorney Laura Schroeder of Schroeder Law Offices led the final two hours of the conference. Schroeder specializes in water law, and her presentation outlined the basics of Oregon water law. Additionally, it touched on information relevant to Columbia River water rights and critical groundwater areas, both important topics in the Umatilla Basin. You can find water law education resources on Schroeder Law Offices' website. If you would like to learn more about basic water rights terminology, the Oregon Water Coalition will hold another water rights workshop led by the Oregon Water Resources Department on Tuesday, February 27. You can find more information here.
The Oregon Water Coalition would like to thank its members and all conference attendees for their support and attendance.