Editorial: Canal ownership question must be resolved clearly

November 14, 2015
Editorial: Canal ownership question must be resolved clearly

As several of Central Oregon’s irrigation districts have learned in the last few years, ownership of irrigation delivery systems is a matter of contention. So much so that resolving the issue may be something only Congress can do.

Central Oregon Irrigation District, which serves much of the Bend, Redmond and Powell Butte areas, hopes to pipe water that moves through a 1½-mile section of its Pilot Butte Canal. That’s got neighbors upset.

In fact, some are trying to stall the project permanently by having the canal listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a move that would likely end the district’s current piping plans.

The latest move sounds like trouble for COID. The National Park Service has refused to recognize it as the full and complete owner of its canal system, and without that recognition it cannot formally complain to stop the historic listing process.

COID’s problems are nothing new. Swalley Irrigation District won a court decision in 2008 over piping plans, and Tumalo Irrigation District officials initially had trouble persuading its constituents that piping was something worth spending money for.

As the region’s population grows, the fights are likely to grow, as well.

That’s why Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and other members of the Oregon congressional delegation should step in and attempt to resolve the matter. They should do so because water is a precious commodity in these parts, used for irrigation and vital for fish. Yet canals across lava and through arid countryside can lose half or more of their water to seepage and evaporation. Any effort to reduce that loss is good, both for water users and wildlife.

Irrigators and their neighbors need a final answer to the canal ownership question, and congressional action may be the only way to provide it.

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