(The Center Square) – The Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources this week.
The bill would reauthorize the Deschutes River Conservancy’s eligibility to receive federal funding for water quality and conservation projects. The efforts are “critical to the restoration of wildlife and reducing agricultural runoff in Central Oregon rivers,” according to a press release from the office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.
“The efforts of the Deschutes River Conservancy are critical to the quality of Oregon’s waterways, and their work goes hand-in-hand with the health of our environment,” Merkley said. “Reauthorizing the DRC’s ability to receive federal funding will directly impact the stability of our rivers and tributaries, and it’s great news that we cleared a key hurdle to making it to the president’s desk. I’ll keep at it until this legislation becomes law.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said passing the bill would greatly benefit the state.
“The Deschutes River Conservancy’s hard work to improve water conservation in Central Oregon has fully earned this reauthorization,” Wyden, a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. “I’m gratified this bill has taken a big step by passing out of committee, and I’ll continue battling to get this legislation enacted into law for all the Oregonians who count on the region’s rivers and tributaries.”
When founded in 1996, the DRC focused on grazing and timber issues that impacted river health. Since then, it has shifted its focus to water management.
After being reauthorized in 2005, DRC was eligible to get $2 million per year for the next 10 years. However, allocations were never made during that stretch, and the organization currently gets its funding from private donations and local government entities.
In its current form, the Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act had never passed out of committee before this year.
“Since its creation, the DRC has helped restore 250 cubic feet per second of water to parts of the Deschutes River and surrounding tributaries,” the release said. “Upcoming projects will include addressing water quality issues in the Crooked River. The reauthorization would renew the DRC’s eligibility to receive funding from the Bureau of Reclamation, and funds will be matched at 50 percent.”
The Deschutes River Conservancy Reauthorization Act would do the following, according to the release:
Authorize up to $2 million in funding per year for 10 years; andAmend the congressional charter to reflect changes made to the DRC’s mission and board of directors.
Deschutes River Conservancy Executive Director Kate Fitzpatrick said the bill would help farmers.
“We are greatly encouraged by the Senate Committee’s mark-up of the DRC Reauthorization Act,” Fitzpatrick said. “This milestone is not just a testament to the regional significance of the Deschutes River but also to the dedication to collaboration by our community and partners. This critical funding will help provide the resilience needed in the Deschutes River Basin for fish, farms, and families into the future.”
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Chairman Jonathan W. Smith also expressed his organization’s support for the bill.
“The DRC is a shining example of place-based decision-making with a strong record of success through collaboration,” Smith said. “As an original founder of the organization, the Warm Springs Tribe strongly supports enactment of this legislation.”
Craig Horrell, President of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, praised the two Senators from Oregon for their advocacy on this issue.
“All of us appreciate Senators Merkley and Wyden’s leadership in advancing a reauthorization for the Deschutes River Conservancy,” Horrell said. “This legislation, once enacted into law, would enable the DRC to fulfill their mission to our community by supporting agriculture and the environment.”