Governor stresses need to store water
WARM SPRINGS -- At a meeting with Oregon tribal leaders Thursday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he wants to look at building massive water storage areas in eastern Oregon to help farmers, protect fish and guard against a future of lower snowpacks because of global warming.
Kulongoski plans to ask lawmakers at February's special legislative session to approve spending money on staff to look at the feasibility of storing water both above and below ground in the Umatilla Basin, which feeds into the Columbia River.
He also wants money from the Legislature to pay for a "water bank" that would allow an exchange of water rights to reallocate how much water is taken from the river systems.
"The need for water in the Umatilla Basin is real and must be met," Kulongoski said, "but not on the backs of fish."
Kulongoski revealed his proposal at the Oregon Tribal Summit, which is being held at the Kah-Nee-Ta resort, run by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. The annual summit brings leaders of Oregon's nine tribes together for a "government-to-government" meeting with Kulongoski and other state officials.
In a series of speeches, tribal council members said they have had largely good relations with the governor's office, although some said they would like better communication and more access to state officials. Several said they want the state to develop a tribal education curriculum for Oregon students to learn about Native peoples.
Anton Minthorn, tribal council chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the state should pay for a full-time Native American education specialist to develop and distribute such a lesson plan.
"The nine tribes have asked for this position for years," Minthorn said. "Governor, make this position a priority."
Kulongoski wouldn't say how much money he'll request for the water storage study because he's still working out details. He also didn't discuss where the money would come from to build the surface and subsurface reservoirs, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
But he said Oregon soon will have to face up to dwindling water supplies.
Last year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a Columbia River management plan that seeks to make more water available for eastern Washington farmers by increasing storage in new reservoirs.
Oregon lawmakers earlier this year discussed a proposal -- known as the Oasis Project -- to allow farmers and ranchers to draw more water out of the Columbia. Kulongoski said he opposed the plan because it didn't offer enough protection for salmon runs in the river system.
Under his plan, at least one-third of any water stored would be used to benefit fish runs.
Lobbyist John DiLorenzo, who worked for the Oasis Project last session, said he's seen proposals by the governor's staff that would include a possible dam near Boardman on a river that feeds into the Columbia, although he didn't know what river. He said he supports water storage for drought-stricken eastern Oregon but his group has submitted an alternative that would pump water into underground aquifers for storage rather than build a dam.
John Barkley, general council chairman for the Umatilla tribe, said his members generally support the governor's ideas for greater water storage. But it will be an expensive undertaking, he said.
"We think this is a sound approach," Barkley said. "But then the question is, who benefits, and who pays?"
Harry Esteve: 503-221-8226; email@example.com