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Whitsett has good reason to be wary

 June 8, 2005

State Sen. Doug Whitsett is right to be suspicious of a proposed voluntary tracking system for rural water.

He expressed his concerns after Senate Bill 731 passed the State Senate and moved to the state House of Representatives.

SB 731 sounds innocent enough. It would enact a monitoring program for the state's water for those who want to take part.

Whitsett, R-Klamath County, didn't like the bill's look.

It wouldn't take much to turn it into something requiring statewide metering, he said.

He's right. That is exactly what the bill's original intent was.

The bill was introduced by the Senate Committee on Environment and Land Use, and would have required "all water users to measure amounts of water withdrawn or stored" and said "that all water users shall install water measurement devices that provide for measurement of the amount of water withdrawn or stored at the point of diversion and that allow for the determination of the rate and duty of water appropriated."

So what's wrong with mandatory measuring of water in the rural areas?

It puts a political weapon in the hands of city residents who don't really understand much about life among their "country cousins." If you're offended by the patronizing tone of that phrase, good. It's an illustration of an attitude toward rural Oregon that exists in urban Oregon. Unfortunately, that phrase was in a story from Salem by The Associated Press about SB 731 that appeared in the Herald and News May 30.

Water in the countryside is allocated by established water rights, which are based on when people began claiming water. It's not a perfect system, but it is the system under which Oregon operates. It can also lead to conflict and litigation. The state is undergoing a long, complex process known as adjudication to sort out water claims and determining who has senior water rights. It's been going on for years, and is likely to go on for years more. Water use is not a low-visibility issue in Oregon.

As for SB 731, which has been changed to make water monitoring voluntary, why bother unless it's intended as a step toward mandatory metering for all water users, including agriculture?

Rural Oregon should be afraid of such things because they put weapons in the hands of urban residents who have little knowledge about such things as agriculture and responsible use of resources. As the political might of the cities continues to grow, Oregon's "country cousins" should be wary. The motive behind SB 731 was clear in its original form and we don't doubt that motive still exists.


Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.





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