Editorial: Federal government wastes Deschutes water

April 11, 2019
Editorial: Federal government wastes Deschutes water

The federal government has found a use for water from the Deschutes River: wasting it.

If you read The Bulletin regularly, you will know Oregon’s Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are no slouches when it comes to fighting for federal money to pipe irrigation canals. Piping conserves water, helps farmers and protects habitat in the Deschutes River Basin. Arnold and Swalley irrigation districts are kicking off piping projects thanks, in part, to federal help.

But that’s not everything the federal government does. It just declared that 3.4 miles of Central Oregon Canal, bounded by Ward and Gosney Roads, are historic. That means that section won’t be piped. It means about half the water going through that stretch of canal will never get where it is supposed to go. And it means more water will have to be diverted from the Deschutes River to compensate.

That’s your federal government at work, undermining efforts to pipe canals.

Of course, canals played an important part in Central Oregon’s history. Read back issues of The Bulletin from the early 1900s and it’s obvious that irrigation was vital in unlocking the potential for agriculture and settlement. A news release from the state of Oregon announcing the historic designation made an additional, strange argument. It said this stretch of canal is “also historically significant for its demonstration of the extreme and varied efforts required to overcome the challenging volcanic terrain within a short period of time to satisfy contract obligations.” Blasting and digging are historically significant?

Let’s concede for a minute, though, that there should be recognition of the historic significance of canals. How many historically preserved stretches of canals does Central Oregon need? There are already several. Isn’t that enough? Or must the federal government direct that more water be wasted?

A few years ago, Gov. Kate Brown’s office wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior and the chief of the National Register of Historic Places. The letter urged that water conservation get priority in a debate over declaring an irrigation canal historic. It would sure be nice if Merkley and Wyden followed up. If not, they should try to get some federal money so “historic canals” can be piped around.

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