Passing effective water legislation is a lot like competing in a running relay race, according to state Sen. Bill Hansell.

Hansell spoke to the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce Tuesday where he highlighted how he worked with legislators to pass what he believes is a substantial water bill by running a smart “relay race.”

“There are specific rules,” he said. “There are specific procedures. There are specific individuals that can handle the baton. You need to run the race set before you.”

One of the batons Hansell said he was handed after being elected senator in 2012 was the water issue baton, which he was tasked with moving down the track. During the last year, he said he has served on group working to pass Senate Bill 839, also known as the Water Supply Bill. The bill establishes a water supply development account to provide competitive grants and loans for water development projects throughout the state.

Hansell said the bill is intended to fund both in-stream and outer-stream projects, including those involving water conservation, storage, aquifer recharge and efficiency. He said it provides critical matching dollars to federal studies in the Willamette and Deschutes basins and allows the Umatilla Basin to change the terms of its grant for water development in House Bill 3369. He said, in addition, and perhaps most importantly, the bill repeals portions of HB 3369 that are specifically biased, including peak and ecological flows and net environmental benefit standards.

“I believe there are three very important parts that help the Umatilla Basin,” he said. “Number one, there is competitive grant money that is going to be available for Umatilla Basin projects. Number two, the Umatilla Basin can change the terms of the grant we received under HB 3369, and three, unworkable standards were repealed — work groups are asked to come up with better language.”

Hansell said he thinks SB 839 is a very important bill that came out of the last Legislature that will affect this year in a positive way.

Hansell said he followed a set of guidelines, what he calls ABCD’s, that enabled him to work effectivly with other legislators.

First, he said, is water legislation has to be affordable and available.

“Any water legislation has to have these two components,” he said. “If end-users cannot afford to obtain the water, the legislation has little to no value. Any water legislation, at the end of the day, must also make more water available. It is so easy to try to appease every single interest that, at the end of the day, you have very little water left for agriculture. We have to be diligent that we keep the focus.”

The second thing, Hansell said, is legislators have to build bridges with one another. He said water is a very complex and emotional issue, and for the people of the Umatilla Basin to have any success, bridges must be built wherever possible.

“I understand that we must also sometimes defend the bridges that we have built,” he said. “There are those who want to tear them down.”

Hansell said legislators must also collaborate on projects and other legislation once those bridges have been build. He also said legislators must have dedication and determination. He said there are those who do not want one drop of water to ever be used out of the stream.

“They are dedicated and determined to reach their goals,” he said. “They will run over us if given the chance.”

He said that group introduced several bills that did not go anywhere because of another group of equally dedicated and determined people were not going to be run over. He said area residents need to be involved in his fight to pass water legislation.

“If I am about to be overtaken by another runner, I need the crowd to let me know,” he said. “When you get wind of any legislation that is not good, make sure I know about it.”

Hansell said he will continue to use the same tactics to pass further legislation that will positively affect local farmers and growers.

“I know that I am never going to be the fastest runner … but I will run smart,” he said. “I believe we can win this water race if we run smart. We run smart, among other things, by doing the ABCDs.”

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