Oregon Business Council’s new Top 10 list of initiatives to promote Oregon job growth includes an item that is generating interest in agricultural circles.

Ninth on the list, which was circulated at the Oregon Business Plan Leadership Summit in December, is authorizing water withdrawal from the Columbia River during high-flow conditions.

Including water withdrawals on the list encouraged irrigators and others who have long advocated the action.

“It looks like there is a critical mass forming around the fact that this is a good idea,” said Cindy Finlayson, director of economic development for the Hermiston-based Umatilla Electric Cooperative. “We now think that people get the economic benefit to all of Oregon of us getting some more water.”

The business plan was developed by a steering committee after talking to business leaders from across the state.

The water-withdrawal initiative encourages the state to authorize Columbia River withdrawals for irrigation and other uses between April 15 and Oct. 1.

“Such a policy could help develop thousands of acres of land in Eastern Oregon, create jobs and add public sector revenues,” the plan states.

Oregon law restricts granting new water withdrawals from the river between April 15 and Sept. 30.

“The idea is to get enough water so you can replace the critical groundwater acres with productive crops and to expand in the longer run, because there are a lot of other acres that could still be developed into agricultural land out there,” Finlayson said.

The Umatilla Basin is home to four of the state’s seven critical groundwater areas. As such, many basin irrigators are restricted from tapping ground water for irrigation, dramatically limiting their crop options.

The additional water withdrawals could supplement irrigation supplies on 30,000-40,000 acres within critical groundwater areas, said Mike Ladd of Pendleton, north central region manager for Oregon Water Resources Department.

Oregon lawmakers in 2009 passed a bill granting his agency authority to withdraw water from the Columbia River during high-flow winter months, store it in shallow alluvial aquifers and return a portion to the Columbia via the Umatilla River during low-flow conditions.

That project, which uses existing infrastructure, is designed to replenish some of the area’s depleted groundwater resources.

“This would be the perfect add to that project,” Finlayson said. “It would allow us to pump more water and store what we need in the short term in the shallow alluvials and then pump the additional water into the deep basalt (aquifer).”

In advancing a bill calling for Columbia River water withdrawals in 2007, the Umatilla Electric Cooperative said the state could generate 10,000 jobs and pump more than $400 million into the Eastern Oregon economy by allowing an additional 300,000 acre-feet of withdrawal — enough to irrigate 100,000 more acres.

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