Editorial: Bend should not trade away water

May 2, 2015
Editorial: Bend should not trade away water

The city of Bend has rededicated itself to talking with environmental groups who have sued about the Bridge Creek water project.

In other words, the city is rededicating itself to nothing. Because nothing is where their talks have gone time and time again. And, in fact, there is good reason that these talks should lead to nothing.

The Bridge Creek water project replaces two old pipes that carry water 10 miles to the city’s water chlorination facility. The city gets about half its water from Bridge Creek and about half from wells. Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon sued over the project in 2013. They argued that the U.S. Forest Service failed to adequately study the impact on Tumalo Creek. A judge ruled against the environmental groups. The groups appealed the case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

LandWatch asked the city in March if it would like to try mediation. The city has agreed.

What is being negotiated?

We don’t know. The talks are behind closed doors. It may be about how much water the city takes. The city has a water right to take up to 18.2 cubic feet per second.

Why are these talks going to work now when all the previous attempts have failed?

The council does have two new members in Nathan Boddie and Barb Campbell who have expressed concerns about the water project. And there has also been much discussion lately about the city trying to help flows in Tumalo Creek by helping Tumalo Irrigation District find ways to take less water from the creek.

But the real question is: Should the city be negotiating?

It doesn’t look like it.

First of all, it’s good for the city’s future to have two sources of water — Bridge Creek and wells. It should not be trading those water rights away. And the city believes the city and the Forest Service “have an extremely strong case legally.”

It is true that the city does have an interest in improving flows in Tumalo Creek. But it is already working on that with Tumalo Irrigation District and groups concerned about water in the basin. It does not need to do that in the context of this case.

It would also be foolish for the city or the Forest Service to believe that by negotiating a settlement in this case LandWatch and WaterWatch will be satisfied. They don’t exist to be satisfied. They exist to do battle for their beliefs. They don’t stop fighting.

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