Cattlemen struggle over water bills

By Oregon Cattlemen Association,

Chair Representative Helm expressed his gratitude to the Oregon Cattlemen for volunteering Rocky Dallum for legislative study in his work group on three bills that he has introduced into the legislature. In their present state, House Bills 2705, 2706, and 2707, are not bills that the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association support, but are hopeful that with continued engagement in Rep. Helm’s workgroup the thoughts and concerns of cattlemen will be heard.

Representative Helm did reiterate that these bills will not impose new requirements or fees on domestic well owners. However, the injustice to water permit holders led the voices of the cattlemen to be heard loud and clear by ranchers who came from far and wide to testify in opposition of these three water bills.

Not only were they heard, but their presence was dutifully noted by many.

“All the fun hats are here! I knew I wanted to be here,” remarked one woman as she walked into Hearing Room D, Wednesday afternoon.

“The cowboy hats are here!” Said another gentleman upon his entrance.

You may not think your cowboy boots, starched Wranglers, and cowboy hats are anything out of the ordinary, but when ranchers make the effort to drive hundreds of miles from their ranch in the middle of calving season, their mere presence strikes a conversation about the pertinence of bills such as HB 2705, 2706, and 2707. The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association joined with many other farmers, ranchers, and water-related industries in opposition of these bills.

Representative Reschke asked the first panel of testifiers a direct question, “Will your association be paying on this bill?”

Ironically, those in support of the bills said “no,” while those in opposition of the bills said “yes.” The answer of “no” by the supporters was emphatic. However, they tried to redirect their answer at the issue that all of the public is taxed on water already, so everyone in turn pays for it.

Representative Cliff Bentz followed this answer with a question of his own. He asked the supporters of the introductory panel, made up of those individuals who have been attending work groups with Chair Helm, that if the entire public was taxed already, why would they wish to target and double tax those individuals with water permits?

They did not have an answer.

“First, House Bill 2705: this bill is unnecessary. Currently, the state has means to require measurement of water if the local watermaster deems it necessary. The state does not have the staffing necessary to analyze the data that is being collected now. Additional data for the sake of data does not solve any problems,” explained John O’Keeffe, OCA President, in his testimony.

Issues with House Bill 2706, is that it should be classified as a tax and not merely a “fee.” A “fee” is appropriated only when a service is being rendered. In this current language, there are no additional services being delivered to the user of the resource. Therefore, House Bill 2706 being a tax, should exempt domestic and municipal water users into participation in financing the effort, and not discrimination, against the out-of-stream agricultural users.

In answer to Rep. Reschke’s question to the first panel, “Yes, our members will have to pay dearly if these bills were to pass.”

This seemed to be widely acknowledged by the entire House Energy and Environment Committee after listening to personal testimony from ranchers. This is why the OCA works hard to help ranchers have their voice in Salem not only during the session but year around.

In a statement released from Rep. Helm’s office, Rep. Helm stated, “My hope is that these bills and this work group can serve as a starting point for discussions on how we properly fund the Oregon Water Resources Department, gather necessary data, and ensure that we are properly managing public water resources. It is important that stakeholders from a wide variety of interests, especially water users such as farmers, lend their voice and unique perspective to this process.”

The conversation has definitely been started and the OCA will continue to provide input from Oregon’s hardworking ranchers.

For more photos, visit our Facebook Album that takes you along as we work in the legislature on behalf of Oregon’s ranchers!

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wants to extend a sincere thank you to John O’Keeffe, Curtis Martin, Rand Campbell, and Tom Mallas for taking the time out of their day to testify in opposition to these bills.

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