EWEB gets OK to sell McKenzie River water

Last week a judge ruled that the Eugene Water and Electric Board EWEB could enter into wholesale water sales agreements without the city’s approval. The current political quagmire on this issue is around whether or not EWEB can sell water to Veneta. But the broader issue is that EWEB has two water rights, one that it’s using and one it is not. EWEB wants to sell McKenzie River water so that it can keep its second water right. Technically, it’s in a use-it-or-lose-it situation.

From the Register-Guard:

EWEB currently has the right to 76 million gallons per day from the McKenzie. That’s plenty for current needs, but peak demand is already approaching that volume. At some date in the future, EWEB will need to exercise a right it holds in reserve to draw an additional 118 million gallons per day from the McKenzie.

That reserve right, however, can’t be held in perpetuity. The utility will lose the 118 million gallon claim unless it can prove it needs at least a portion of the water in the next five to 20 years. The Veneta contract, for up to 4 million gallons a day, is one way to prove that need.

ODFW weighed in on the pending gold rush to sell off McKenzie River drinking water and said the minimum required flow to protect sensitive fish species is 2,000 CFS at Hayden Bridge. EWEB doesn’t like this number, as they’ll probably want more water in the high demand low flow months of late summer. But that 2,000 CFS mark is fundamentally important to protect.

The McKenzie is home to the only Upper Willamette Spring Chinook population above Willamette Falls with a heartbeat. It boasts one of the greatest bull trout populations in Oregon, and is prime habitat for Endangered Species Act listed Oregon Chub. Not only that, going below 2,000 CFS would be a major detriment to the native rainbow trout population.

According to ODFW, there’s an extremely important point at 2,000 cfs for rainbow trout. Rainbows didn’t gain a lot of habitat above 2,000 CFS, but below that it dropped precipitously. ODFW also admits these are rough numbers. What if 2200 is the magic CFS number? That means if EWEB draws down to 1800 cfs one August, it would be a big problem. The way water law works, water users will always carve it down to the minimum. While 2,000 cfs is a good number, it’s probably good not to approach that number too closely.

Also, keep in mind that the minimum is the minimum, it’s not the optimum. Is 2,000 CFS enough for salmon to survive, or to flourish?

We need high water on the McKenzie to recreate side channel rearing habitat. It’s critical to have offchannel marshes. We need high water events to turn over the gravel.

Anglers need to stay vigilant on this issue, to make sure we keep as much water in the river as necessary. Because even here in the wet Willamette Valley, Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.

-MS

Please write to the Eugene Weekly and Register-Guard about protecting our fisheries resources from a rush on the McKenzie River water. You can contribute a letter to the RG by emailing rgletters@registerguard.com, or check this page for more details. You can send letters to the Eugene Weekly at editor@eugeneweekly.com.

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