The Oregonian is running a multipart series called Polluted by Money which examines the incredibly corrosive effect money has on Oregon. We all know this, but this series is simply jaw dropping in its examination of how bad the problem is, especially when it comes to the environment. Far from being green, we are now one of the least environmentally progressive states in the county, “a laughingstock” with “no enforcement”. The series simply has to be read by anyone who is concerned about water quality, quantity, fishing, or the future of our state.
There are so many things in this series of articles that should spark outrage but one that really hit home for me was the amount of money spent by the agriculture lobby. According to the article, Oregon ranks #6 in the country for money given by the ag lobby on a per-legislator basis. According to the US department of agriculture Oregon is only the #28 state in terms of agricultural production. No wonder our rivers and groundwater are being drained dry to the detriment of ecosystems and drinking water as examined in another excellent must-read investigative report from The Oregonian.
At the American Fisheries Society meeting last week a presentation by ODFW stated that only 15% of Oregon’s stream/river miles were protected by any in-stream water rights and the rights that have been granted are so junior they are never filled. This is certainly the case for the upper Deschutes. State government has not been willing to grant any new in-stream water rights, no matter how junior, for years. The reason why is clearly explained in the article: the ag lobby opposes it (see part 3 of the series).
Over 2,000 years ago the philosopher Plato wrote “The Republic”, an examination of politics and the human condition as relevant today as it was then. It has many gems including the well-known, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Lesser known is “the desire for office should disqualify you”.
Unfortunately, this is as true in Salem as it is in Washington DC, regardless of party affiliation. For the obvious reasons, special interests in Oregon, like irrigation districts, continue to have far more power and influence than they should on a proportional basis. With so much money corrupting the system it just doesn’t matter that Oregon water law states that the public owns the water and it should be used for our benefit.
Here’s what you can do: attend the hearing in Redmond this Saturday and ask that bills currently being debated in Salem to fund water initiatives be funded. The only way things will get better is if we, the public, demand it. I hope to see you there.