House authorizes money for Deschutes River Conservancy

BEND, Ore. (AP) ?” Legislation that authorized $2 million a year in federal funding for the Deschutes River Conservancy through 2015 was approved by the U.S. House.

    If approved by the Senate, the money will likely not start flowing until 2007. But it will ensure that about 9,000 acres of land that get water from the Crooked River will get water from the more reliable Deschutes River, officials said.

    ”It means a continuation of some really effective conservation projects throughout Central Oregon,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “With the growth that’s going on in Central Oregon, there are ever-increasing demands for water.”

    The Oregon Water Resources Management Act, sponsored by Walden, was approved by voice vote Monday. The legislation is a package of four Oregon water management bills.

    ”It means a more dependable water supply for our district,” said Bob Ringering, manager of the North Unit Irrigation District, which also benefits from the bill. “Under the Crooked River, we’re only able to pump if sufficient water is in the river.”

    The shift would not only conserve more water for the Crooked River, but it also could potentially save up to $300,000 a year once completed, Ringering said.

    The bill would also allow the 60,000-acre North Unit Irrigation District, based in Madras, to participate in state-funded water conservation projects with other districts, an arrangement currently prohibited by a federal funding agreement.

    ”It’s a direct benefit to the district,” Ringering said, “and the natural resources.”

    The bill would also provide federal money to rehabilitate the Wallowa Lake Dam and would allow a water management study at Little Butte and Bear Creek watersheds.

    The legislation is supported by both Oregon senators, Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Gordon Smith. The Senate has already passed similar piecemeal legislation but must complete action on the package the House approved.

    Tod Heisler, executive director of the conservancy, said the group petitioned for extra money from state and private foundations to make up for the expected delay in funding until next year.

    The nonprofit conservancy includes federal, state, local, private, environmental, irrigation and tribal representatives. It has received about $750,000 in federal funding each year since its founding in 1996 and about $1 million this year, Heisler said.