2050 Plan just the beginning

The Umatilla Sub-Basin 2050 Water Management Plan aims to restore water in the basin for the next 50 years for irrigation, as well as Tribal and watershed needs.<BR><I>EO File Photo

Though Umatilla County Commissioners formally adopted the Umatilla Sub-Basin 2050 Water Management Plan on Nov. 10, water still weighs heavily on the mind of Umatilla County Planner J.R. Cook.

He's spent the last five years working on the Umatilla County Critical Groundwater Task Force, putting together the plan recommending policies for managing and recovering groundwater in the basin over the next 50 years.

"Now we're moving forth with detailing the plan and implementing it," Cook said. "The 2050 Plan, you can look at it as a the comp plan for water. It gives general findings and general recommendations on what's to be implemented, then you add the details as you go through. That's where we're at now is detailing how to implement recommendations in the plan."

At the Farm Fair and Trade Show, Cook said he plans to update people on how the water planning effort is going to continue beyond the actual 2050 document.

"Hopefully we'll be able to show folks how this is turning into a series of groups working together in a coordinated fashion," Cook said.

The groups include what's tentatively being called the Umatilla Sub-Basin Coalition and the task force's Transition Team for the 2050 Plan.

The coalition will be an umbrella entity including Umatilla and Morrow Counties, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and local irrigation entities. It will work to communicate water issues on a state and federal level and further efforts like those proposed in S.B. 1069 to revitalize critical groundwater areas in the basin.

The scope of the transition team will partially be determined by what the coalition covers.

"Until we figure out what the coalition wants to tackle and how far we get with legislation," Cook said, "then we'll find the niche or the scope of the transition team."

Cook also expects the transition team will advise the county commissioners on how to implement the 2050 Plan.

"I'd almost call it a planning commission for water," he said.

Along with learning about these still forming entities, Cook said he hopes people who come to the farm fair and attend his presentation will get a good idea of what the 2050 Plan means to them.

"They'll get a pretty strong feel for the pieces of the 2050 Plan that are doable now and how they are the cornerstone or benchmarks for implementation," he said.

The task force published the first draft of the Umatilla Sub-Basin 2050 Water Management Plan in January of this year. In July, the task force put out a second draft and asked the public for feedback through surveys and public information sessions. In August, the task force published the final draft of the plan.

On its last official meeting on Aug. 19, many of the task force members decided to continue their involvement by volunteering for the transition team.

The Umatilla County Planning Commission passed the plan on Oct. 16 and on Nov. 10 the county commissioners adopted it.

"Looking at water rights throughout history, usually people don't come together until after the water right is settled," said task force member and tribal representative Bill Quaempts. "This is one of the unique settlements in the history of water rights that proposes legislation and federal government and the county supporting together."

Task force members also asked the Umatilla County government to put it into action.

"Hopefully you'll recommend it not to be a paperweight, not to be put on the shelf, because this will actually solve your problems," said Task Force Chairman Kent Madison. "The political climate and the public climate in Umatilla County is ready to do it."

That's exactly the kind of action Cook hopes to show at the farm fair.

"It's always great to interact with the folks who are probably going to be the most directly affected by what we accomplish," Cook said. "The farm fair is a great way to keep the discussion going amongst users."

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