Wallowa County commissioners are weighing a proposal from Wallowa resident Rocky Wilson to help them influence Wallowa Lake Dam owners’ decisions on funding the dam’s repair.
Two of the three commissioners — Susan Roberts and Mike Hayward — have previously offered supportive remarks for a private investment strategy that the Associated Ditch Companies (ADC), the dam’s owner organization, already is pursuing to pay for rehabilitation. Pending approval of ADC’s application to Oregon’s Water Resources Board to allow ADC to send 4,200 acre/feet of water downstream each year for flow augmentation purposes, ADC can presumably strike deals for that water’s purchase or lease, although those specific transfers would themselves be subject to state board approval.
Wilson, however, is alarmed that one prospective transaction partner — Salt Lake City-based Wallowa Water Corporation — once proposed on its website to create a “filling station in Portland, Oregon, in order to deliver water to States that lack water, such as Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Water will be delivered by railway or even for export to other countries.”
Until recently, those ideas were presented at wallowawater.com, where today the visitor lands upon a screen simply declaring, “UNITED GLOBAL WATER INC. COMING SOON,” and providing an e-mail address for information. Previously the site offered a different e-mail contact. A message the Chieftain sent to that address several weeks ago went unanswered. One of the screens on the site was dated 2013.
The Wallowa Lake Dam, built in 1919, is currently approved to store only 72 percent of its capacity, due to its aged condition. ADC spent years trying to gain federal funding for the structure’s rehabilitation, to no avail. In an interview, ADC Project Manager David Hockett said the dam owners put in “a lot of time and wasted a lot of money trying to get this pushed through Congress and so forth.” He said the group “knocked on doors” in the nation’s capital to begin conversations with people who might have been able to help, but “once they got to the fact that we were a privately owned dam, the conversation cooled.”
Wilson wants ADC to continue trying for government funding, but from the State of Oregon rather than the feds. He thinks the money could be available through SB 1069, the Agriculture and Community Water Act, which the Oregon Legislature passed in 2008. At the county commissioners’ regular meeting on Aug. 3, Wilson told the county board that he was available for hire to further research the potential funding opportunities through SB 1069, and the commissioners could in turn present those findings to ADC.
Wilson, a retired newspaper reporter and former employee of the Chieftain, also told commissioners he would refrain from discussing his research project with the press unless the commissioners authorized such contact.
His proposal did not include a price or project time-line, however, and Commissioner Hayward said the board would need those items before considering any action.
ADC was not represented at the Aug. 3 commissioners meeting.
ADC’s Hockett, interviewed a week before the meeting, acknowledged that discussions had occurred between ADC and the group that was behind wallowawater.com, but he said there was currently no agreement in place, and that group wasn’t the only potential funder.
“They could be the group that gets it done, but there are several others that have come to the table,” Hockett said.
Dam owners are also awaiting state approval of the application for downstream flow augmentation. That could come as soon as Aug. 20 if no one files a challenge.