The Bulletin recently ran a story about farmers and others around Madras blaming the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan for reducing water deliveries this year. Even though irrigators will continue to get most of the water in the Upper Deschutes for many years to come, this group claims there should be “balance” in water allocations. I guess they want 100% of the water, like they took until recently. This group has hired out-of-state, anti-environmental attorneys to have the HCP changed.
I am deeply sympathetic to the plight of real farmers with junior water rights, but the HCP is not the problem. The problem is antiquated water laws. Apparently, there is still enough water to allow those with more senior rights to sell them to new private water ski lakes and new resort golf courses. The anger should be directed at other irrigators.
The anger should be directed at the Oregon Water Resources Department who does not enforce the beneficial use provisions embedded in the water right. How is redirecting water granted for irrigation but sold to new, artificial, private lakes and golf courses being used for the benefit of all Oregonians?
The anger should be directed at our state representatives who continue to ignore this issue. It really can be solved with a few changes. First, require the clear definition and enforcement of the beneficial use provision in a water right. Secondly, charge for water. We, the citizens of Oregon, own the water but we get nothing for it. Irrigation districts charge a delivery fee, but the water itself is free. Charging even a modest fee, on a sliding scale, would help redirect water from hobby farms to economically productive ones. Laws can be changed.
Oh, there’s also something called global warming that might have something to do with drought and reduced water supply. The HCP has nothing to do with that.