Though Tuesday’s election saw the Bend City Council pick up two more opponents to the city’s planned improvements to its Bridge Creek water system, that should not weaken supporters’ determination to proceed. A two-source water supply makes just as much sense today as it did two weeks or two months or two years ago.
That’s not to say that current plans should be cast in stone. Newly elected councilor Victor Chudowsky has said he would like to explore ways to make the project effective but cheaper, and we’re all for that.
But abandon it? Not on your life.
At least some of the project’s opponents say the city should simply abandon Bridge Creek and shift to wells. That would be cheaper, they say, and the city’s water rights would allow it to begin drawing from Bridge Creek again in the future, should it need to.
There are some assumptions in that proposal, however, that are questionable. One apparently is this: Though the city would have to pump virtually all water obtained from wells, the cost of doing so would never become prohibitive.
That’s only true as long as electricity remains relatively inexpensive in the region. As we switch to more expensive alternatives than hydro and coal, pumping costs are sure to rise, perhaps dramatically. There’s a price to be paid for being green, and Oregon leadership remains committed to making the state a leader in greenness, no matter the cost.
Then there’s the question of treatment. Treating surface water against cryptosporidium is expensive, no doubt. But there’s no assurance that well water will be able to get by with less treatment over time. Among other things, there’s the possibility of contamination either as a result of waste treatment or from leachates, and the city would have to treat against either.
Most important is the issue of water rights. Proponents of abandoning Bridge Creek have argued that the city always would be able to return to that source if need be. For now, at least, that may be true. The law on water rights is complex, however, and some doubt exists about how secure the city’s water rights would be over time if they were not in use. But even if current law is sufficient, things that are law — even things that have been law for a long, long time — have a way of changing. Why, women in Oregon have had the vote for only 100 years, and women have been able to vote nationwide for less than that.
To gamble that the law won’t change or be reinterpreted, that power costs won’t rise and that heavy-duty treatment will never be needed is simply too risky.