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Plan to claim local water raises alarm

A strategy produced by the Deschutes Steering Committee suggests using water from Prineville Reservoir to off-set seasonal impacts to the Lower Deschutes River
Proposed changes in how water impounded behind Bowman Dam is used is causing some concerns for county officials.
   At the present time two separate agencies are looking at the water stored in Prineville Reservoir. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has been working on a reallocation plan for that water for some time. A second study perceived as possibly having a negative impact on the local water impoundment comes from another direction; the Ground Water Mitigation Strategy for the Deschutes Basin.
   A report on ground water resources in the Deschutes Basin outlined the hydraulic connection between surface and ground water. That study, completed by the United States Geological Survey and the Oregon Water Resources Department, determined that the use of ground water within the study area affects surface water flow in the basin. Since 1995, state statute requires that ground water permits issued by the department, in or above scenic waterways, include a condition that the permit may be regulated if the use is found to measurably reduce scenic waterway flows.
   That according to the water mitigation strategy could mean including water in Prineville Reservoir in a contingency "bank" to off-set seasonal impacts to the Lower Deschutes River. That, County Judge Scott Cooper says, is not acceptable.
   "The court has been adamant about doing everything to not allow anyone to draw down our water," he said. "This could shut off water to irrigators or recreationalists if that happens." Anyway, he added, it is funny that the only water mentioned in the draft of the report is the Prineville Reservoir. "What not Pelton or Wickiup? Why us? We need every drop for municipal and industrial uses. It is time," he concluded, "for us to get serious - its our water and we have to take care of our people first."
   As a step in that direction, Cooper sent a letter to the Oregon Water Resources Department stating the opposition to any draw down of the Prineville Reservoir as part of the reported strategy.
   Crook County notes that the BOR has only begun a study of proposed allocation of unallocated water in the Prineville Reservoir, the letter states. Whether this study will find that additional reservations of water for agricultural, recreation or municipal or industrial purposes has yet to be determined.
   "We believe that the need for additional reserved water is highly likely for all three purposes and therefore it is premature to discuss additional allocation for aquifer recharge or enhanced stream flows," Cooper's letter says.
   The Bureau of Reclamation, he explained, in several alternatives under review as part of the reallocation proposal call for Crook County irrigators to receive first-fill rights from the reservoir. It is, Cooper said, "vital that we have first spill rights for our irrigators." Should this come about, he wrote in his letter, in conjunction with an extended drought, it is very possible that there will be no available water for mitigation purposes.
   In addition, Cooper asked if the Deschutes Steering Committee was aware that the Oregon Department of Agriculture has previously requested a reservation of all additional water contained in the reservoir for agriculture purposes.
   Making his feelings clear, Cooper told the water resources Department officials that the "Crook County Court believes the decision to single out the water retained within Crook County's borders as a solution to the need for additional water resources in neighboring Deschutes County smacks of arrogance akin to thirsty Californians lusting after the water of Oregon."
   A copy of the ground water mitigation strategy, and Cooper's letter of response is available for reading at the county court office in the courthouse or at the Central Oregonian office. The public comment period on this proposal closes Friday, April 27.