February 1, 2024 – The Oregon boating community enthusiastically welcomed the unveiling of Senate Bill 1590, an important initiative aimed at increasing public access to recreational boating in the Newberg Pool. This legislation not only stands as a beacon of support for local families and small businesses but also exemplifies bipartisan collaboration. Spearheaded by Senators Meek (D) and Brock Smith (R), along with Representatives Bynum (D) and Elmer (R), the bill enjoys widespread sponsorship from Senators Manning Jr. (D) and Woods (D); and Representatives Boice (R), Hieb (R) and Ruiz (D). Together, they collaboratively support a cause that goes beyond party affiliations, ensuring a positive future for both boating enthusiasts and the wider Newberg Pool community.
For decades, local families have safely enjoyed towed watersports like tubing, waterskiing, and wakeboarding in the Willamette River’s Newberg Pool - an area of deep water on the Willamette River from the mouth of the Yamhill River to Willamette Falls. In 2022, the legislature narrowly passed SB 1589, which devastated the local boating community and small businesses that depend on recreational boating. The bill banned the majority of families registered to participate in towed watersports by setting an arbitrarily low weight limit for boats in the Newberg Pool. While the bill was well-intentioned, it kicked hundreds of families off the river, and local small businesses suffered millions in economic losses due to the decline in recreation.
SB 1590 is well-considered reform that puts forth the most effective Newberg Pool regulations tested over the last five years, including towed watersports education, dedicated zones and standardized weight limit.
Thanks to the Oregon State Marine Board’s (OSMB) Newberg Pool Towed Watersports Education Program, boat drivers in this region are some of the most knowledgeable in the state and support safe towed watersports. SB 1590 carries forward this valuable program so boaters remain informed about the latest boater safety measures, effective wave management techniques and operator responsibilities.
Improving public access includes restoring carefully planned zones by the OSMB, shaped with input from diverse river stakeholders. These zones ensure safety for river users and the environment by limiting towed watersports to suitable areas. An extensive list of state-wide boating laws remain in place as well.
The legislation's final component includes implementing a standardized factory weight limit, which not only prevents larger boats from towing riders but also streamlines enforcement. The present weight limit (combined factory dry weight and ballast) has no national standard, which has posed significant challenges for consumers to determine if their boat is eligible and for the marine board to enforce accurately.
“Since the passage of SB 1589, recreational boating interest has sharply declined in the Newberg Pool,” said Matt Radich, President of Active Water Sports in Oregon City. “These unnecessary restrictions prevent families from enjoying one of Oregon’s greatest natural resources and substantially reduce interest in recreating in the area. This decline actively harms businesses like ours and directly impacts our ability to provide livable wage jobs.”
“Thanks to SB 1589, I can’t even take my kids tubing on the river,” said Monie Gaba of Sherwood. “The law banned our boat from watersports in the Newberg Pool, making it so that our kids can’t experience the river our family has enjoyed for years. The upper Willamette was a godsend during the pandemic for our kids’ mental health as well, but now that’s been taken away. The current law isn’t common sense, and Oregon families need reasonable public access to the Newberg Pool. SB 1590 will allow us to get out on the river again and support local small businesses.”
“For the last three summers, my family has followed all the necessary Newberg Pool rules, completing the education program, registering our boat and paying the fees,” said Darren Holsey of Wilsonville. “Imagine my surprise when the OSMB denied my application this year, deeming our previously legal boat ineligible, citing aftermarket ballast capability. We do have this upgrade, yet because it is offered for our boat model, we’ve been denied. Using nationally standardized weight limits will make it easier for consumers to purchase qualifying boats and for the OSMB to implement consistently.”
Recreational boating provides significant social and economic benefits across the state. Oregon recreational boaters support $2.3 billion in economic impact, over 8,000 jobs and over 400 local businesses. The sport helps contribute $25 million annually to conservation and waterway infrastructure projects. Oregonians spend more than 6.8 million activity days per year on the water, participating in watersports and cruising, making SB 1590 important to ensuring Oregonians have access to the great outdoors.
Oregon Families for Boating encourages concerned citizens to sign their petition to support SB 1590 and restore sensible boating legislation. For more information and to sign the petition, visit www.oregonfamiliesforboating.org/actnow.