Water study aims to balance farming, fish, tribal interests 4-8-07

PENDLETON, Oregon (AP) - A new federal analysis of water development alternatives in the UmatillaBasin could lead to meeting water needs for irrigators, salmon and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation will spend $450,000 over two years to evaluate ways to meet the basin's water needs.

The department will appoint a special Indian Water Rights Assessment Team to examine the tribes' water needs and rights.

Rick George, who manages environmental planning and treaty rights protection for the tribes said the work began 20 year ago.

He explained the federal studies will build on the Umatilla Basin Project, a bucketforbucket exchange that leaves water in the Umatilla River for salmon and allows irrigators to pump water from the Columbia River.

``This is a really big step for both the tribes and the lower basin,'' George said.

Westland Irrigation Manager Mike Wick agreed. ``Our water supplies could be used to satisfy potential claims the tribes may have,'' Wick said.

George said the tribes don't support a bill that would take 500,000 acre feet a year out of the Columbia River for irrigators.

George described the Basin Project as a ``tried and true process'' with support from the Oregon Water Resources Department, the governor's office, the tribes and Umatilla County commissioners.

George also said the federal studies should dovetail with Senate Bill 600, legislation Sen. David Nelson, RPendleton, introduced that directs the Oregon Water Resources Department to conduct a statewide water supply and conservation opportunities assessment.


When the studies are complete the Department of the Interior anticipates having a list of specific recommendations for projects that sort out tribal water rights, provide protection for salmon and continue economic development.