This Oregonian used to take water for granted. That was when I lived within the city limits of Portland and Salem. I turned on the tap and water came out. Where it came from, who cares?
Now my wife and I live in the country. Our water comes from a well. We've learned a lot about groundwater. We realize that wells can go dry when more water is taken out of an aquifer than is going in.
That's why we're leading a fight to stop a Measure 37 subdivision near our home. Yesterday the Salem Statesman Journal ran a front-page story about the battle, which has cost our neighborhood group (Keep Our Water Safe committee) almost $20,000 so far.
"It seems to me the cost should be on the developers," neighbor Laurel Hines said. "They should have to explore the resources before they allow the new use."
Absolutely. Leroy Laack hopes to make millions by turning productive farmland into a subdivision. The hundreds of people already living here just want to keep wells and the creek that feeds Spring Lake from going dry. This is the craziness of Measure 37. It trashes the rights of the many in favor of the few.
Fortunately, Oregonians are waking up to the nightmare of Measure 37. There's a growing recognition that this ill-considered "property rights" legislation (which ignores the fact that people already living in an area also have rights) poses a serious threat to the state's groundwater.
Over on Blue Oregon, Russell Sadler describes "Oregon's approaching water crisis." He's mostly right on, though it isn't true that the groundwater in rural areas is replenished by streams and rivers. Rainfall generally does the trick.
In central Oregon, however, there's a closer connection between surface water and groundwater due to the area's unique geology (lava and other rocky deposits have cracks that allow water to flow more freely). Some of the comments to Sadler's post address this.
Other comments reflect the ignorance of those who believe that (1) Oregon has plenty of water because it rains so much here, and/or (2) there's a easy way around the state's looming water shortage. One particularly ridiculous comment calls for desalinization plants. And apparently a really long pipe to Eastern Oregon.
Legislation has been introduced that would require rural homeowners to get a permit before drilling a well. Currently wells used for domestic purposes are exempt from the requirements that govern farmers and commercial users. Yet Measure 37 is about to bring us thousands of new wells on land where water is already scarce.
Away from city limits, farmers and residents tap into groundwater to get water to faucets in homes and sprinklers in agricultural fields. Although farmers have to go through the state Water Resources Department for approval to pump groundwater, residents don't.
That concerns farmers and environmentalists, who say that domestic water users should follow the same rules. They say it's unclear how much groundwater is available and what kind of impact domestic uses have on groundwater.
A few months ago Laurel and I went to a presentation by the executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, John deVoe. He said that water rights in this state still are based on a Wild West philosophy of "whoever gets there first," a lot like how land originally was grabbed by settlers.
Problem is, deVoe noted, this is an inefficient and unfair way of managing a scarce resource like water. Just because someone has an old water right doesn't mean they should be able to use water wastefully, while other more productive users are shut out.
Exempting rural residential wells from permitting makes matters worse. First come, first served is bad enough as a water rights principle.
Now, Measure 37 subdivisions are able to use the "anytime come, first served" domestic well exemption as a license to suck dry existing wells owned by neighboring farmers and residents.
Measure 37 and Oregon's groundwater laws both need reforming. Legislature, get off your duff.