Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, November 17, 2017, Page 3, Image 3

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    November 17, 2017
Corps takes another look at stored water
Amount for farming
in the proposed
allocations falls
short, offi cial says
Capital Press
Capital Press File
An irrigation intake pipe draws water from the Willamette River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Oregon Water Resources Depart-
ment propose allocating irrigators 253,500 acre-feet of the 1.59 million acre-feet stored behind 13 dams in the basin.
implies, an acre-foot is the
amount of water needed to
cover an acre of land with 12
inches of water:
• Fish and wildlife —
962,800 acre-feet.
• Municipalities and indus-
try — 73,300 acre-feet.
• Irrigation — 253,500
• Joint use — 299,950
The latter would be avail-
able as needed to supplement
specifi c uses and to pro-
vide fl exibility as conditions
Mary Anne Cooper, public
policy counsel for the Oregon
Farm Bureau, said the amount
assigned to irrigation is “not
nearly enough.” She said the
bureau has seen demand es-
timates higher than that, but
declined to state a number at
this point in the process.
The amount designated for
joint use is another concern,
Cooper said.
“Our concern is that we
will never get to use it,” she
said. “We think it will go to
fi sh. We don’t believe we’ll
ever see any part of that joint
use (amount).”
Willamette Basin
dams and
River Basin
20 miles
1. Big Cliff
2. Detroit
3. Green Peter
4. Foster
5. Blue River
6. Cougar
7. Hills Creek
8. Cottage Grove
9. Dorena
10. Lookout
11. Fall Creek
12. Dexter
13. Fern Ridge
Source: U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation
Alan Kenaga/
Capital Press
mette R
Willamette Valley farm-
ers and ranchers would have
rights to about 250,000 acre-
feet of irrigation water annu-
ally under a reallocation plan
suggested by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers and Ore-
gon Water Resources Depart-
The proposal is the latest
attempt to decide who gets
access to the water stored be-
hind 13 federal dams in the
basin. For agriculture, even
in the wet Willamette Valley,
water availability in spring
and summer is crucial.
The Corps’ preferred op-
tion allocates more than three
times more than what irriga-
tors now draw from the Willa-
mette system, but the Oregon
Farm Bureau said that’s not
Cities, industries and fi sh
and wildlife experts and ad-
vocates are likely to make the
same arguments about their
allocation under the plan, and
that sets the stage for some
tough discussion.
Climate change, urban
growth, fi sh and wildlife habi-
tat decisions and legal techni-
calities swirl in the current.
It’s not a new problem.
Discussion began in 1996,
popped up again in 1999,
fell off the table in 2000 and
was revived in 2015. This
time, the Corps of Engineers
emerged with a proposal that
specifi cally divvies up 1.59
million acre-feet stored annu-
ally behind the dams.
“We have just reached the
point in the study where we
are asking the public to re-
view the tentative plan and
provide feedback before a de-
cision is made,” Corps project
leader Laurie Nicholas said in
a prepared statement.
Here’s the Corps’ sug-
gested breakout. As the name
She said the water allocat-
ed to fi sh and wildlife — pro-
tected salmon and steelhead
runs are the driving factors —
are “more than adequate and
too large.”
Cooper said an assured
water supply is critical to “re-
12 10
alize the full potential of agri-
culture in the valley.”
Producers are driven by
markets, she said, and will
grow higher value crops when
irrigation is available. It’s dif-
fi cult to predict which crops
will be in demand in the de-
cades ahead, she noted.
“I think the state would be
shortchanged to not plan for
future ag needs,” she said.
The issue has roots in de-
cisions, missed opportunities
and delayed action that date
back nearly 80 years.
The Willamette River Ba-
sin’s 13 dams were built be-
tween 1941 and 1969, and
their primary purpose is fl ood
control during the winter.
Congress also authorized the
Army Corps of Engineers to
operate the dams and reser-
voirs to generate electricity,
provide irrigation, assure wa-
ter quality, offer recreation
and to support fi sh and wild-
life. However, there isn’t a
specifi c amount of reservoir
storage allocated for any par-
ticular use.
Federal bureaucracy com-
plicates the matter because
another federal agency, the
Bureau of Reclamation, holds
the only water right certif-
icates to the “conservation
storage” behind the dams. Un-
der those certifi cates, all 1.59
million acre-feet in storage is
designated for irrigation.
But only 75,000 acre-feet
per year is now contracted for
irrigation. Cooper said a lack
of expensive infrastructure —
pipes, pumps and canals —
limits how much water farm-
ers draw. In any reallocation
solution, the Bureau of Rec-
lamation would have to fi le
with the Oregon Water Re-
sources Department to change
how water use is designated.
Cooper said the Farm Bu-
reau is willing to engage with
the other stakeholders to fi nd
a solution.
The stakes are high. The
Willamette River Basin en-
compasses more than 11,000
square miles, is home to near-
ly 70 percent of the state’s
population and contains its
biggest cities — Portland, Sa-
lem, and Eugene — many of
its major industries and some
of its best farmland.
The reallocation work
comes on the heels of a six-
year Oregon State Universi-
ty research project that used
computer modeling to predict
water availability, demand
and storage in the Willamette
River Basin to the year 2100.
The OSU modeling pro-
jected Willamette Valley farm-
ers will plant earlier and begin
irrigating about two weeks
sooner than they do now. Cli-
mate change most likely will
result in wetter winters, OSU
researchers said, but the snow-
pack will be severely reduced
and will melt and run off earli-
er than it does now.
Rainy winters and springs
will be followed by hotter
and drier summers, but more
farmers will have fi nished
irrigating by the time water
shutoffs are contemplated,
the research team concluded.
Although the reduced snow-
pack will cause the loss of an
estimated 600,000 acre-feet of
stored water, it won’t have a
signifi cant impact on farmers
in the Willamette River basin
who rely on rain-fed streams.
Farmers in the more arid East-
ern Oregon and Deschutes and
Klamath basins, however, de-
pend more on melting snow for
irrigation water and are more
likely to face shortages.
Researcher predicts farmers will warm
to climate challenge, adapt practices
Capital Press
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Washington State University researcher Chad Kruger speaks about
climate change and agriculture Nov. 10 at the Tilth Conference
in Vancouver. Kruger, who directs the WSU research centers in
Mount Vernon and Puyallup, says he’s optimistic farmers will adapt
to higher temperatures.
range of future possibilities
and making decisions that
are robust across those pos-
sibilities,” he said. “We have
to get better information into
the hands of the farmers who
have decisions to make.”
Northwest farmers are
better positioned geograph-
ically to adjust than their
counterparts in southern cli-
mates, Kruger said. Even if
temperatures rise, snow will
fall in Canada and melt into
the Columbia River, and the
Northwest won’t be as prone
to long droughts as the South-
west, he said.
“It’s a lot worse else-
where,” Kruger said. “The
closer you are to the equator,
the more vulnerable you are.”
The new National Climate
Assessment, a quadrennial
product of government and
university scientists, confi -
dently predicts rising tempera-
tures, though the message on
precipitation is less clear.
The current thinking is that
in the Northwest more precip-
itation will fall as rain, rather
than snow.
“I’m very optimistic,” Kru-
ger said. “Farmers are smart.
That’s the bottom line.”
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Alan Greenway,
— Climate change may
sprout weeds, breed insects
and shrink snowpacks, but
it won’t be anything farmers
can’t handle, a Washington
State University researcher
said Friday at an agriculture
Chad Kruger, who directs
WSU’s Mount Vernon and
Puyallup research centers,
said farmers are used to oper-
ating in an unsteady climate.
“We already deal with a
substantial amount of vari-
ability,” Kruger said. “Our
best hope for the future is
really smart, well-equipped
Kruger spoke at the annu-
al conference organized by
the Tilth Alliance, a group
focused on small farms, espe-
cially those that are organic.
He was one of several speak-
ers at a symposium on North-
west agriculture and climate
The speaker before him,
University of Washington
climate scientist Heidi Roop,
outlined scenarios in which
average Washington tempera-
tures rise between 2 and 8
degrees by mid-century. She
encouraged growers to think
of the drought of 2015 as look
at the future.
Kruger said he’s skeptical
about scientists’ ability to pin-
point future temperatures, but
he said he fi nds the projected
ranges reasonable.
Whatever the range, the
future will resemble the pres-
ent in that farmers will have
to plan for wet and dry years,
cold spells and heat waves, he
Researchers are starting to
look into how higher tempera-
tures would affect plants, wa-
ter and soil, Kruger said.
“We’re shifting into more
of a discussion about the