Editorial: Ditches shouldn't be declared historic

September 4, 2018
Editorial: Ditches shouldn't be declared historic

It can be a relief to see two opposing groups find a way to compromise. But a possible compromise between Central Oregon Irrigation District and landowners who border a COID canal southeast of Bend could be a bad deal if you care about water.

Landowners along the COID canal between Gosney and Ward roads have tried to put a stop to any efforts to pipe the canal by getting it declared historic. The state rejected their initial application. Landowners came back with a new one. COID is apparently talking about a deal. In return for allowing this stretch of canal to be declared historic or just not piped, maybe this would be the last stretch of COID’s canals that would be declared historic.

But the goal should be using water efficiently — not settling a dispute for COID, making the adjacent landowners happy or preserving a ditch for history. There is no need to make another ditch in Central Oregon historic. The stretch of the Pilot Butte Canal declared historic near Juniper Ridge would have been enough.

About half the water taken out of the Deschutes River for irrigation is used inefficiently. It’s lost before it ever gets where it is going — mostly to seepage and some to evaporation.

That’s bad for the river. Water is too precious in Central Oregon to be used wastefully. So irrigation districts work hard to find money to pipe their canals.

But if someone is fortunate enough to have an irrigation ditch running along or through their property, they can want to keep that ditch. It’s like a personal creek during irrigation season. It’s much more pleasant than a lump of buried pipe.

The landowners have argued the Gosney/Ward stretch is historic because it’s part of the region’s history. It had to be dug out of rock and blasted. “One can understand the purpose, function and history of the irrigation water delivery system by observing the resources in the nominated segment,” they argued in an application. Of course, that same argument could be made of just about any other open canal in the Deschutes basin.

An irrigation ditch is not a unique, architectural gem. If the only way COID sees to end this fight is to allow this ditch to be declared historic, the historic designation process is terribly out of whack.

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An aerial view of a body of water.