The Oregon Water Resources Department is working to hire a watermaster to work in Milton-Freewater. Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens called that welcome progress.
The position stems from a deal the county made in 2016 to move its watermaster division employees to the state agency. The deal also called for the county to pay $100,000 a year to Water Resources, which in turn would staff a full-time watermaster in Milton-Freewater.
Givens said last year that did not happen, so he took on the task of pushing the state to make good on its promise. Diana Enright, public information officer for Water Resources, said interviews for the post will start next week.
Givens said he and members of the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council held a conference call Monday with Water Resources director Tom Byler to discus the situation.
“We made it very clear that you have the funds from us,” Givens said. “Now let’s get a person out there.”
Water Resources wanted the watermaster to work out of Pendleton and commute to Milton-Freewater as needed, Givens said, but irrigators there need someone on site to navigate the convoluted stream of water rights, and the county wants that as well.
He also suggested once the state makes its selection and gets the new hire trained and ready to go, the person needs to reach out and talk with the irrigators. Givens said building and maintaining relationships can go a long way to mitigating problems when the state cuts back on someone’s water use.
The commissioners also warned if the state does not come through, the county will pull the funding.
Water Resources also is working to get funding to hire several hydrologists to study the Walla Walla Sub-Basin, Givens said. The agency in 2017 determined the sub-basin has a water management problem due to decreasing groundwater levels in basalt aquifers.
Enright said she did not have the specifics of the proposal, but Water Resources has tried in past sessions to get funding for groundwater studies and will continue to. She said such studies would gather data the department needs to make informed decisions.