Jon and Sabrina Carey did the right thing when they notified the state that they had a 40-year-old pond on their Butte Falls area property. They did the right thing when they went to the Medford Water Commission to ask for a permit to keep the pond. They did the right thing when they said they would not use water from the pond for irrigation. They did the right thing when they said they would make it available for firefighting, wildlife habitat and municipal uses.
The Medford Water Commission should now do the right thing, the common sense thing, and grant the Careys a permit to keep the pond.
The Careys bought their 10-acre property 2½ years ago. It came with a pond, which was clearly visible on the county records they inspected before making the purchase. But when they decided they would grow medical marijuana, they were required to identify their water sources. That prompted a letter from the Jackson County Watermaster's Office, telling them they have no rights to the water in the pond or to having a pond at all.
Faced with a loss of property value and livability, the Careys then turned to the Water Commission, which so far has seemed lukewarm to the idea. A denial would be unfortunate and yet another indication of what's wrong with government at so many levels. Dot the i's, cross the t's, avoid the slippery slope and don't let common sense play any role in the decision-making process.
Common sense says, first of all, the Medford Water Commission has no need for the water in the small pond (the Careys also have offered to reduce the pond's size). During the height of the recent drought, the commission said it had no supply issues due to the nature of its watershed. No Medford Water Commission customer would be inconvenienced by a reduction in water or an increase in cost.
Common sense also says that the Careys' pond does provide a valuable tool for firefighting and habitat for wildlife (and after 40 years, the wildlife population around the pond would be considerable). The Oregon Department of Forestry has weighed in on behalf of the Careys for firefighting purposes and Fire District 3 has provided a letter saying the district, too, supports the presence of such ponds for its firefighting needs.
Common sense also says the watermaster and commission could spend much of their available time over the next few years draining hundreds of rural ponds. The commission's interim manager said the agency only goes after ponds on a complaint basis, but we're not aware that anyone except the watermaster complained about the Careys'. He now knows of at least four other ponds in the same area. Is he going to order those drained as well?
As far as concern about setting a precedent — not only is that a too-easy out for the commission, but it misses the point that a precedent of engaging common sense is not a bad thing.
Government is all too often an impersonal bureaucracy, not looking beyond staff reports and self-created rules to see that blind adherence to those reports and rules hurts real people, often for no good reason.
The Medford Water Commission can move beyond that paradigm and approve the Careys' request for a permit.