SALEM - The state has determined it could divert enough water from the Columbia River each winter to nearly fill the Great Salt Lake.

But that presents a problem: finding adequate and appropriate places to store the water.

Although he stopped the proposed Oregon Oasis Project by threatening a veto, Gov. Ted Kulongoski has strategies for meeting water needs in the Columbia Basin. They're spelled out in a position paper Kulongoski released in April.

In the document, the governor acknowledges water supply issues are most severe in parts of Umatilla and Morrow counties. That's why he asked the Oregon Water Resources Department and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to analyze water available to divert from the Columbia in winter without harming fish.

Jointly they came up with the figure of nearly 11 million acre feet. An acre-foot contains 325,851 gallons. For comparison, the average volume of Utah's Great Salt Lake is 15.4 million acre feet.

"I am committed to helping to resolve this important set of problems," Kulongoski said.

He cited three specific needs in the region.

?Replacing unsatisfied groundwater rights in the Umatilla Critical Groundwater Area and restoring irrigation to 57,000 acres where it has been curtailed, plus providing for municipal and industrial uses.

?Providing water to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to satisfy unquantified federal reserved water rights. Kulongoski said the state has reserved 75,000 acre feet for the tribes.

?Fulfilling six pending surface water applications for the Columbia River, totaling 23,500 acres during the irrigation season, plus some municipal uses.

Kulongoski said Columbia River flows from April 15-Sept. 30 protect threatened and endangered fish. For Oregon to begin withdrawing water from the river during that time, he said, "would result in a modern-day water war among the states who have worked hard to balance flows for fish, power, irrigation and biological benefits."

The governor budgeted $900,000 for the Oregon Water Supply and Conservation Initiative, which would quantify unmet needs in the Columbia Basin and statewide, and develop an inventory of suitable storage sites. The Legislature cut the appropriation to about $700,000, but Kulongoski said federal funds might supplement the project.

"The Water Resources Department and its commission will immediately begin working on this assessment," he said.

Kulongoski said the Water Resources Department and the Department of Environmental Quality are coordinating to address water quality issues related to injecting river water from excess winter flows into deep underground aquifers.

The state also is cooperating with the Westland Irrigation District of Hermiston and the CTUIR on a two-year study of the Umatilla River basin. Debra Croswell, CTUIR deputy executive director, said the study will determine which water supply projects are needed to bring irrigation and municipal-industrial-commercial water to the reservation, and to restore Umatilla River stream flows.

In March the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation committed $450,000 to begin the study. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne directed the Indian Water Rights Office to appoint a team to assess the Tribe's water rights claims.

"We anticipate that the water supply study and the concurrent Indian water rights assessment team process will be completed in 2008," Croswell said. "The products will be a characterization and quantification of the Tribe's water rights, and an analysis and prioritization of the water supply projects most capable of satisfying CTUIR water needs and protecting the existing water supplies and water rights in the basin."

She added that the CTUIR federal water rights settlement will accommodate and protect existing non-Indian water supplies and water rights by building water supply projects to provide "new" water for tribal needs.

"It is anticipated that the water supply study will reflect projects similar to the Umatilla Basin Project - where new water supplies from the Columbia River are used to offset water supply shortfalls in the Umatilla River Basin," Croswell said.

Kulongoski also said he hopes to secure an agreement with Washington state officials to specify a quantity of water for Oregon as part of Washington's Columbia River Water Development Program.

"Oregon remains committed to partnering with Washington on this initiative and has contacted Washington about Oregon's interest and support," he said.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.