The Bend City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a policy that will generally prohibit irrigation water rights from being used on 2,380 acres of land to be annexed into the city.
The city should allow the same flexibility under the policy for private landowners that it’s going to allow for Bend Park & Recreation District and other public entities.
Generally, when land becomes urbanized, the people who live on the land or homes or other property that is developed switch to city water. So in the case of Bend, it could be a switch to city water or one of the two, local private water utilities — Avion or Roats. Irrigation water can’t be used for drinking water.
But there are places within the Bend city limits that continue to use irrigation district water to irrigate. Drake Park and the Old Mill District are two higher-profile examples. The city’s goal with its policy is to try to limit the use of irrigation water within the annexed area.
The city’s proposal would allow a landowner with an irrigation water right to continue to use irrigation water. For instance, the Bend Park & Recreation District would like to be able to use irrigation water to irrigate the Bend Pine Nursery park. Under the city’s policy, because it’s a public entity, the park district could be entitled to justify the use because it can argue it can save money for itself. But under the city’s policy, a private landowner is not able to make an argument that it could be less expensive. Why is saving money good for government entities but not good for private landowners?
The way the policy is written, the council’s discretion will also play a powerful role in any irrigation decision. Any landowner could need to prove to the Council that use of irrigation water would satisfy all or some of the following criteria — more efficient, lack of environmental harm, sustainability, better for public health or saves the city money. Sometimes the Council could require just one criterion and sometimes it could require they are all satisfied. It could make meeting the policy requirements very arbitrary.
The Council should at least allow private landowners to consider cost, just as it would allow it for government entities.