Editorial: Water project decisions should not be delayed

From the nation’s Capitol to Bend’s City Hall, lame-duck legislative bodies are at work. They are making decisions that might, in some cases, be made differently by the elected bodies that will take office in January.

Should they just stop, deferring to those who will follow?

On the subject of Bend’s surface water project, new Bend Councilor Sally Russell said yes. Russell defeated incumbent Kathie Eckman and then took office early after Eckman resigned. On Monday, Russell abstained from voting on a water project decision and asked the council to delay any binding decisions until the other new councilors take office in January.

It’s a tempting argument, more so if you oppose the water project, as Russell does. And it’s not hard to imagine instances where it might be appropriate, on issues that have no time pressures or have not been discussed at length.

But government cannot grind to a halt after each election, and timing is critical if Bend is to avoid further financial losses on the way to building an intake facility and pipeline that are crucial to maintaining its dual sources of water.

The project is now stalled by a court injunction sought by Central Oregon LandWatch challenging a necessary Forest Service permit. LandWatch argues the Forest Service did not sufficiently consider environmental effects. Councilors voted Monday to seek a new Forest Service permit that does not increase the amount of water the city takes from Bridge Creek.

There may be other changes worth considering in later phases of the water project, for example, the type of filtration needed to satisfy federal requirements. But maintaining the city’s water rights and its surface water system is not among them.

The city has made a convincing case that the pipeline needs replacement and is well on its way to doing so. It would be dereliction of duty for the council not to take speedy steps to resolve the legal challenge now delaying the project.

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