Malheur Enterprise | May 31, 2023
SALEM – Democratic leaders in the Legislature have announced they’d allocate $110 million to confront Oregon’s drought and water security issues for the next two years.
It’s less than half of what the budget’s authors, Reps. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, and Mark Owens, R-Crane, had initially proposed in March. The two wanted $250 million for at least 25 proposals that would tackle dwindling groundwater supplies for agriculture, address drinking water contamination and ensure the health of critical fish and other aquatic species around the state.
The bipartisan duo are chair and vice chair of the House Committee On Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water. Helm told the Capital Chronicle $110 million is about one-third of what the state actually needs to spend on drought and water issues in the next biennium to address water emergencies and prepare for the future.
“What we really need is a fund that stretches from beyond the current biennium and bridges multiple, with a funding stream that is relatively safe,” Helm said.
The announcement of state funding for drought and water issues arrived just a day before Gov. Tina Kotek’s seventh and eighth emergency drought declarations of the year. On Friday, Kotek added Lake and Sherman counties in southern and central Oregon to a list that includes Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson and Wasco counties. Such declarations unlock additional financial and technical resources from state agencies for local water systems and for industrial and agricultural water users. Oregon has been in a “megadrought” since 2000, the state’s longest drought in 1,200 years, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department.
If approved, the $110 million investment would cover at least nine proposals to assist in local water planning strategies, fund Oregon State University to offer technical assistance to farmers to use water more efficiently and pay for studies and planning to store water in underground aquifers, according to a news release from House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego.
Many of the investments are targeted at projects where state funds can be used to bring in matching federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021.
Owens’ water policy adviser, Harmony Burright, said specifics about what all the $110 million would fund are with the Democratic leaders.
“They’re working on rolling out the details of the package,” Burright said. “Unfortunately our office likely won’t have it in advance of what is shared publicly.”
In a news release, Owens said the investment was a “critical down payment” from the state to help communities adapt to a future of increasing water scarcity.
“We live in a water-constrained environment and the water-related challenges we face will only get more intense,” he said.