At first blush, it would appear the Columbia River-Umatilla Solutions Task Forces odds of succeeding are slim and none ?and slim is headed for the door.
The United Nations may have a better chance of reaching a consensus agreement on every agenda item for the next year. Republicans and Democrats have a better chance of joining hands across the aisle in the U.S. Senate and singing Kumbaya. Shoot, Id even say the Mariners have a better chance of winning the World Series.
Better, at least, than asking literally every group with any interest at all in Columbia River water to reach a consensus agreement on how to take more water out of the river and put it onto the land without harming the fish and hurting power production.
If you live around here, you know this much: thems fightin words, and for the last 100 years or so, thats just about all such proposals in Oregon have produced bitter words and bad feelings.
But times change. And Mondays first meeting of CRUSTF actually had people walking out of the meeting believing good things could happen.
Im an optimistic person, said Steve Greenwood, part of Gov. John Kitzhabers Oregon Solution team. But I left (Mondays meeting) feeling better than when I walked in. I heard people say they were willing to work on this. I heard people say they were willing to come together.
That alone might fall in the category of astounding. Mondays meeting in Boardman included representatives of conservations groups, American Indian tribes, educators, state government, regional and federal associations (including Bonneville Power), economic development interests, agriculture interests and county governments.
And after four hours all in the same room, there was no hair-pulling, eye-gouging or kidney-punching. Instead, they were all in basic agreement that they could all find a common ground for the common good.
I was cautiously optimistic, allowed Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty.
Doherty has reason to be. After trying to force water uphill in the legislature for years, hes finally managed to bring the issue home. That in itself is a significant step.
The fact that Kitzhabers office has agreed to become a part of the discussion is another nice step in the right direction.
Now its just a matter of convincing everyone involved they can come up with a plan that will actually benefit everyone.
The good news is they have a blueprint from which to work. Just six years ago, the state of Washington enacted legislation that is in the process of accomplishing what folks would like to see happen in Oregon more water for ag use while at the same time benefiting all the other interests.
Washington created a system that doesnt leave anybody in the dust, Doherty said. There are no losers. One of the obstacles we have to overcome here is to develop trust that we can do the same thing.
Of course, Washington managed to start its project when the nations economy was flowing along at a decent clip. As Richard Whitman, Natural Resources Policy Director for the governors office, noted, We will be facing different constraints.
But theres still an opportunity here, and after the first meeting, what still appears to be a group of folks open to the discussion.
Washington has actually started to get water on the ground, Whitman said. The main point there was a shared benefit. Conservation received a benefit and agriculture received a benefit.
That will no doubt be a huge point of contention. Conservation groups have spent decades gaining concessions when it comes to stream flows and fish protection, and they wont be willing to give any of those back.
As long as they dont see any of their gains rolled back, theyll be supportive of what we do, Doherty said.
Another very important part of the equation and a major factor in any success the group might produce is isolating the projects and solutions to this area of the state. In years past, efforts to help Eastern Oregon have been derailed in Salem when statewide interests wanted one-size-fits-all proposals.
If we can focus on this basin and what the issues are here, we can make this task much easier, Whitman said.
The possible solutions are varied, and they range from the short term to the long range. One of the short-term solutions is to use water storage facilities in Washington, Idaho and even Canada; then send that water downstream when needed.
Long-range answers could involve everything from more aquifer recharge projects to more storage facilities in Oregon to more aggressive conservation practices.
But while there are plenty of issues to debate, the one thing that is clear to everyone involved is that time is precious. Thats why the folks in CRUSTF have set a goal of reaching some kind of consensus by December, then have legislation ready for the 2013 Oregon session.
Its an ambitious timetable but then, that fits perfectly the goal at hand.
A lot of work has already been done by the different people involved, Whitman said. This isnt the state swooping in to dictate something.
Added Greenwood:?Oregon Solutions is about getting stuff done. Were talking about how to get people together and come up with some things that will benefit everybody.
Impossible? Of course not. Improbable might be a better description.
But the mere fact that everyone is willing to talk is definitely progress.
Maybe theres a Kumbaya moment in our future after all.