True That! | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

True That!

The adage that "numbers don't lie" apparently doesn't apply to the current debate over the Bridge Creek water project. Last Friday, our recipient for the Boot this week, the Bulletin's editorial team kicked the hornet's nest. With a bold-face headline, the lead editorial read: "LandWatch Adds Misleading Info to Water Debate." The editorial goes on to say there has "been another dose of the misleading." Syntax and sloppy allusions aside, the editorial is concerning for a number of reasons, perhaps primarily because the city's water project is important in balancing Bend's future growth with its environmental stability—and, as best as possible, should be decided on facts and numbers.

Instead, the Bulletin's editorial amounts to drive-by journalism. The editorial does little to back up its claim that LandWatch is providing misleading information and, upon further investigation, does not seem to be an accurate assessment.

LandWatch is a vocal, local environmental organization, known for reasonable, not shrill, assessments of the impact urban growth could have on the environment. Last year, for example, when the city first applied for a permit from the Forest Service to install a larger pipe to replace the two smaller and old pipes currently drawing the city's drinking water, LandWatch filed an injunction to stop the project because it believed there had not been adequate environmental assessments about what pulling more water from Tumalo Creek would do to the area. The courts agreed with the accusation, which sent the city back to the drawing board to work out what is an appropriate water flow out of the creek and into our drinking water supply.

But, for the sake of argument, if indeed, LandWatch is providing misleading information, the nonprofit risks much greater sanctimony than a public flogging from the city's daily newspaper. It risks losing its very nonprofit status and its attorney Paul Dewey could risk disbarment. Which is to say: the Bulletin's claim is a massive accusation.

Again, though, for the sake of argument, if LandWatch is providing misleading information, yes, such reporting is exactly what a newspaper should do. Serving as watchdogs is an essential contribution to make certain the public process is fair and informed. It is this vital role that is in jeopardy when organizations like Fox News skewer information. More immediately, this role as watchdogs is increasingly endangered as daily newspapers disappear across the country. It is dangerous, however, when news organizations present information that discredits reputable organizations.

Certainly an editorial—such as this one, and like what the Bulletin printed on Friday—provides latitude for newspapers to express their passions. Yet, within those allowances are that passions must be based on facts, and not desires for a certain outcome.

If LandWatch is lying, which the Bulletin's editorial strongly implies, that's a matter to be reported on the front page in the news section, not on the editorial page.

What is even stranger and concerning is that LandWatch's math seems to be accurate, or at least defensible, no matter from which angle the calculation is approached: Currently, the city is allowed to pull 18.2 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the existing pipes. And, technically, that amount is currently drawn from the pipes, but half of the water is returned to the watershed (see page 8 for a more detailed explanation and information regarding a recent city council declaration about water allowances). Meaning: The declaration by city council last Friday to affirm the 18.2 cfs essentially does create a paradigm in which the city could double it's current draw.

Or, alternatively, the new 30-inch pipe that the city hopes to install—and which is being debated in the courts—will greatly increase the capacity for water flow, to a reported 36 cfs—which, by our calculations is just a smidge under double the current allowances.

Yes, the city has put in place its upper limit at 18.2 cfs, regardless of the pipe size; However, expecting the city to remain at this level indefinitely when it has the capacity to take more, is akin to giving a teenager $100 and telling him to only spend half. Five years from now, when Bend's population again has boomed—and the corresponding demand for water increased—what is stopping city council from wiping out the current 18.2 cfs limits?

The debate over this water project is too vital to the stability of Tumalo Creek to be decided—and for opinions to be skewered—in the court of public opinion.

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