Editorial: Don’t endanger Central Oregon farmers
Published Mar 15, 2016 at 12:10AM
Some Central Oregon irrigators are in a very uncertain place. With spring on the horizon, they don’t know what their water supply will be this summer, and until they do, they cannot make basic decisions about what and where to plant.
Their difficulties lie with a lawsuit and subsequent request for a preliminary injunction filed by Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch, an Oregon environmental group. The two say the Bureau of Reclamation and the North Unit, Tumalo and Central Oregon irrigation districts mismanage the release of water from reservoirs into the Deschutes River, in the process damaging habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog.
If the injunction is granted, Jefferson County farmers face a long and uncertain summer where water is concerned.
It needn’t be that way.
Farmers in Central Oregon have been working to improve flows on the Deschutes. They’ve made noticeable progress in summer flows, though much more remains to be done.
Officials from all affected districts, federal agencies, the city of Prineville and even WaterWatch have worked together since 2008 to come up with a plan that will meet the habitat needs of fish and other wildlife as well as the water needs of irrigators. Their work, grounded in science, is nearly done, and they’ve recently lobbied Congress and others for less than $1 million to complete the job.
Yet if an injunction is granted and the case proceeds to trial, all that effort may have been wasted. Farmers face the possibility of losing much, perhaps all, of a year’s income, and if they cannot plant, those men and women who work for them will be out of jobs.
The best possible outcome of a March 22 U.S. District Court hearing on the injunction would be to have the request rejected, at least for now. Those involved in creating the habitat plan must be allowed to finish their work. As some efforts on sage grouse habitat plans have shown, with planning, farmers don’t have to be an endangered species.