Morrow County officials aren't sure they agree with everything in the Umatilla County Critical Groundwater Taskforce's new water management plan. But failing to cooperate with the plan's ambitious goals may be to stand in the way of progress, conceded the Morrow County officials.
The plan, also known as the 2050 plan because many of its goals should be achieved by the year 2050, is a call to action for government agencies and towns in the Umatilla basin, with the goal of improving the quality and quantity of water.
The plan recommends a coordinated effort to recover aquifers that have been depleted in the past 50 years and to decrease nitrate levels in the water.
The plan outlines several different ways to accomplish those goals, including using winter river flows to recharge aquifers for summer irrigation use and establishing a new government agency to administer the plan. It also proposes a few ways to pay for all the changes, such as wellhead or per-acre fees.
Four critical groundwater areas are identified in the Umatilla basin area, and three of those are in both Umatilla and Morrow counties.
But, for many of the Morrow County officials at the meeting, Tuesday was the first time they really got a chance to look at the plan.
Several people expressed reservations - especially Gary Neal, the general manager of the Port of Morrow.
"I don't know if I'm ready to start (levying) fees on water," he said. "It's a completely new way of doing business."
Morrow County Planning Director Carla McLane said she also had reservations about the plan, but they were more about process than the fact that something needed to be done.
"There a lot of questions that are not answered," said McLane. "The plan is good at proposing a lot of options and activities, but it doesn't give a lot of details."
And Morrow County doesn't have a good grasp on what the plan would look like, she said. None of the conversations that have been going on in Umatilla County the past four years, she said, have been happening in Morrow County.
"We need time to talk to our communities," she said.
But the officials agreed that something needed to be done about the critical water situation in Morrow County.
"This is probably going to be one of our last best chances," said Morrow County Judge Terry Tallman. "We probably need to climb aboard here."