The feasibility study for the Umatilla Basin Recharge Project that Senate Bill 1069 began will end June 30, but lawmakers are working to fund the next stage for water recharge in Eastern Oregon.
Even with tough economic times, Oregon state Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, said the funding the project is worthwhile.
"I know times are tough but we need to do our development and sometimes it's cheaper to do it in these times than when times are really booming,"?Jenson said," because you've got too much other activity getting in the way of it.
"It will return significant profits,"?he added, "not just for individuals, but for the state - including jobs, including production, including growth through the rural economy rather than the shrinkage of the rural economy."
Jenson, along with Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland, are backing House Bill 3369. It establishes a program in the Oregon Water Resources Department to hold $50 million for water supply projects, funded by lottery bonds.
The money could go to finance construction, similar to the way SB 1069 funded IRZ Consulting's feasibility study, said Barry Norris, of the Oregon Water Resources Department.
The Legislature also is looking at SB 5535: a massive $257.5 million bill to use lottery bonds to fund economic and community development departments - a small piece of which includes about $2.5 million for the next phase of the Umatilla Basin project.
While this could look like doubling up on efforts to fund the project, Jenson said it's more about legislators not putting all their eggs in one basket.
"We're trying to cover all our bases," he said, and in the end, appropriations for the water project wouldn't double.
Both bills are still being addressed. Jenson said HB 3369 is in the Ways and Means Resources Subcommittee, but may be addressed in the next week or so. SB 5535, because it is so large, may be one of the last items decided on in the fiscal year.
Both bills also have a line stating they will declare emergencies as of July 1. This will allow legislators to cut through some red tape and enact the bills sooner than they would on a normal timescale.
If any sort of water fund is established, the Umatilla Basin project could sit at the top of statewide lists.
"The Umatilla Basin project is fundamentally the project that needs to be done to be able to establish benefits - the statewide benefits - that we can get from these kinds of investments,"?Jenson said. "It will provide the evidence we need to seek more of these kinds of investments."
Overall, Jenson said he plans to continue "singing his song" about the importance of water and seeing it as a key to the state's economic development.
"Water is the oil that Oregon has,"?he said. "... I see it as a very critical natural resource that we have not developed and used as efficiently and as effectively as we can. There's a fine item out of it. With the increase in population, and the increase in services to that population wants and desires, and the increase in demand for foodstuffs in the world - water is life. It will add some new life to our district. And new life in our district is basically new life in the state of Oregon."