Representative Gail Whitsett

Feb 21, 2014 — by: Rep. Gail Whitsett

Excerpt from Gail Whitsett’s Feb. 20th Newsletter

An entire two and a half hour committee meeting in Agriculture and Natural Resources was dedicated to our HB 4044, which was the bill regarding determining, by empirical scientific evidence, interference between ground water and surface water before cutting off permitted irrigation well water by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD).

Over 130 Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers have been threatened by the OWRD to have their irrigation ground water wells shut down as soon as April 2014.  This is in addition to the same ranches having all of their surface water called on, and shut off, by the Klamath Tribes (as the newly adjudicated senior water right holder) and the OWRD in 2013. The adjudication provides absolutely no direct statutory control over ground water, but the OWRD is trying to tie the two water sources (ground and surface) together in an attempt to gain control over all of the ranch and farm lands (through their water) in certain areas of the Basin, without going through the process of defining a “Critical Groundwater Area”. OWRD does not want to go through this process as there really is not a shortage of ground water in this region.

Senator Whitsett and I wrote HB 4044 which would require the OWRD to provide specific empirical field science for EACH well that they are going to shut down. This is in contrast to OWRD’s attempt to regulate and shut down the wells as a group, from a very broad regional computer study.

The support from Klamath County citizens and the agricultural community was remarkable. Many dozens of letters, e-mails, telephone calls, and testimony by individuals traveling from a great distance were made on very short notice.  Citizens drove from as far away as North Powder at a distance of 350 miles one way to speak for two minutes each in support of the bill.  Klamath County ranchers, a Klamath County Commissioner speaking on behalf of all three members of the Commission, and members of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Oregon Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups traveled hours in the terrible snowstorm and I-5 shutdown to give their extremely limited minutes of testimony. To view written testimony click here.  

We would like to thank the Ag Committee Chair Witt and the members of the Ag and Natural Resources Committee for their choice to make this bill one of their three committee bills for the entire session. 

Unfortunately, HB 4044 was killed before a vote was taken by the members. So it died in committee, but not before the citizens had at least a brief moment to tell their stories of hardship and government over regulation of their private property.

The bill was opposed by the Oregon Water Resources Congress, a tribal government, and a host of environmental groups.  The Klamath Irrigation District sent a letter opposing the bill, but two members of the 5 member board traveled to Salem to support the bill and talk about the split vote by the organization. In the end, the organization agreed to an amendment which alleviated most of their concern.