Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Water issues will likely dominate session work
Looking forward: Well water regulation will be in contention
by Senator DOUG WHITSETT
I expect two Klamath County water bills will dominate my
efforts during the 2014 February session. We have already
discussed the legislative concepts with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s
natural resource adviser at a recent meeting at Oregon Institute
of Technology. One concept will facilitate the transfer of both
the kind of use and the place of use of irrigation water subject
to the Klamath River adjudication. Current law only allows water
that is fully adjudicated to be transferred. Klamath water
cannot be transferred until the final court decree is issued. If
we can establish appropriate injury protections for other water
users, this concept would greatly benefit Klamath Basin
irrigators by allowing the temporary transfer and leasing of
irrigation water prior to the final adjudication decree.
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Page Updated: Tuesday December 31, 2013 02:00 PM Pacific
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The Oregon Water Resources Department has made clear its intentions in 2014 to shut down as many as 130 irrigation wells due to alleged interference with surface water rights.
It claims that a recently completed regional groundwater model provides the proof required to force the irrigators to discontinue the use of their wells. The second legislative concept would require the department to prove substantial interference with surface water resources caused by individual irrigation wells before it can be regulated.
It further requires the department to pay the well owner damages and fees if the owner is forced to discontinue use of a well and the department is subsequently unable to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the well is causing substantial interference.
Looking at the 2013 session: The Legislature made significant strides toward improving funding and reducing costs for Oregon’s K-12 education enterprise.
HB 5519 increased biennial state K-12 funding by $874 million above the 2011-13 budgets. HB 5101 added another $100 million during the fall special session.
The combined effects of the two PERS reform bills will reduce projected costs for Oregon school districts by about $825 million per year, assuming the new laws withstand challenges to the Supreme Court by the public employees’ unions. Combined savings and new appropriations total about $1.8 billion or about $900 million per year.
The Department of Education count of students attending K-12 classes in November was 534,874. Therefore, school districts should have about $1,680 more to spend for each student when the PERS savings and increased state spending are combined. That calculates to about $50,000 more for each class of 30 students; that is, if all of the increase and savings found its way to the classroom.
OIT, KCC needs
We also authorized a $7.5 million General Obligation Bond for capital construction at Klamath Community College to expand its capacity for vocational instruction. The bonds must be matched with local funding and is available for six years. Voters rejected KCC’s first attempt to establish the required matching-funds at the fall elections.
We introduced and passed legislation to add geothermal generation to Oregon’s net-metering regulations. This new law allows OIT to netmeter electricity from its geothermal generation facility.
Approval of a pending request to the Oregon Public Utility Commission for a waiver of the four-megawatt net-metering cap will allow OIT to save as much as $250,000 per year for the next 20 years.
Help with budgets
The Legislature also made efforts to improve local government budgets. The two PERS bills will reduce employment costs for local governments by nearly a billion dollars per year. Also, HB 2140 created opportunities for local governments to invest in state investment pools that have significantly better returns on investment. For instance, Klamath County could improve its investment returns on road fund money by as much as $2 million per year. Unfortunately, the state treasurer has yet to implement the provisions of the law that took effect May 22.