Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope presented comments on behalf of AOC in support of additions of Policy Option Packages (POPs) to the proposed 2017-19 biennial budget of the Water Resources Department before the Joint Committee on Ways & Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources on April 13th. Commissioner Pope is Co-Chair of the AOC Water Policy Committee.

Even within the context of the enormous state revenue/budget shortfall, and the fact that AOC has placed primary importance on passage of an adequate transportation funding package and public revenue reform, the issue of water supply and availability remains critical to the development and quality of life of Oregon.

Commissioner Pope noted that the Oregon Legislative Assembly, after a long period of cuts to the Water Resources Department (WRD) budgets and inaction on the need for water development (putting Oregon well behind Washington State on water availability), sharply changed course in 2013 and continued the infusion of resources for water development. From 2013 to 2017, legislative appropriations for water resources studies, planning, and project-related activities (strongly supported by AOC and like-minded stakeholder partners) totaled nearly $30 million in lottery bonds, $40 million in general obligation bonds, and $3,345,000 in general funds.

The 2017-19 Governor’s Recommended Budget relies on a series of POPs to fill out the WRD budget. Without the adoption of the POPs listed below, the WRD budget will not sustain the momentum built in the previous two budget cycles.

Six POPs are of particular importance to counties and the state, if Oregon intends to catch up to and keep pace with its water needs.

  • POP 104 proposes to add one place-based planning and grants coordinator to allow the state to continue to work with communities piloting place-based planning to identify solutions to meet their instream and out-of-stream water resources needs, as well as to administer and evaluate feasibility study grants. WRD had .75 full-time employee (FTE) grants coordinator and 1.0 FTE place-based planning coordinator limited duration positions in 2015-17 biennium. ($204,000 general funds; 1 FTE).
  • POP 109 helps meet Oregon’s water needs by providing $2 million in lottery bonds for grants to assess the feasibility of developing water conservation, reuse, or storage projects. POP 109 would shift feasibility grant funding from general funds to lottery funds. ($2 million lottery bonds; $52,000 cost of issuance).
  • POP 110 helps meet Oregon’s current and future water needs by recapitalizing the Water Supply Development Account – Senate Bill 839 (2013) – to provide grants and loans to develop water resources projects that have economic, environmental, and community benefits. To date, demand has exceeded available funding. ($30 million lottery bonds; $2.95 million cost of issuance and debt service).
  • POP 101 provides resources to conduct basin studies, while also addressing data backlogs in the groundwater and surface water sections and allowing applications to be processed more timely. Data is essential for long-term management of groundwater. ($300,000 groundwater studies, $100,000 geologic mapping, $500,000 observation wells, and 4.4 FTE; total $1.8 million general funds).
  • POP 105 adds three assistant regional watermasters and one Northwest Region hydrotech to help manage and distribute water, and improve data collection. Reclasses five hydrotechs to align the positions with the required duties; the alternative for WRD is to remove duties and responsibilities from these positions, reducing efficiency in data collection and processing. Adds one field conservation coordinator to conduct public outreach, promote water conservation, increase understanding of Oregon water laws among the public and all water users, and work with small communities. Adds $125k for costs of litigation. ($1 million general funds; 4.4 FTE).
  • POP 107 provides position authority only. It adds three positions funded by Umatilla County (two assistant watermasters, one administrative assistant) and two assistant watermaster positions funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The five positions are currently county personnel who work under the direct supervision of WRD; however, Umatilla County has signaled its intent to discontinue the five county positions, but may be willing to continue with financial support. As a result, WRD agreed to seek five state positions, based on the understanding that county and federal funds would support the positions. ($434,000 other funds; $434,000 federal funds; 5.0 FTE).

AOC also urged the subcommittee to approve POP 100, the companion package to HB 2295. WRD’s current fee schedule supports approximately 18.5 processing staff in the Water Right Services Division, as well as staff and engineering contracts in the Dam Safety Section. Last modified in 2013, the current fee schedule is due to sunset on June 30, 2017, reverting to 2009 fee levels, while costs are projected to increase by 15.88 percent over the next four years.

With the reductions in staff, it will take longer to process water right transactions as backlogs build, causing farmers, water providers, and others to wait longer to receive decisions on water supply proposals.

HB 2295 would retain current staffing levels through 2021 for water right processing and dam safety by removing the sunset on the current fee schedules and increasing fees by approximately 15.88 percent averaged over the four-year period (fee revenue $838,000). The legislation would be effective July 1, 2017, the start of the fiscal year and the date on which the current fee schedule sunsets.

POP 100 will facilitate restoration of resources under HB 2295.

Contributed by: Gil Riddell | AOC water policy manager