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Controlling other cities

There’s a significant issues buried inside a smaller one in the case the Eugene Water & Electric Board has filed, and the city of Eugene entered, in the circuit court in Lane County. The immediate issue up for consideration – whether the board or the city of Eugene, which actually owns the water rights at stake in the lawsuit – has the right to make a water sales decision. Or ultimate decision, as the case may be.

But inside that is another question: Should one city (Eugene) be able, through its decision on water sales, to effectively control the development of another city – Veneta.

Veneta is a small bedroom community of about 5,000 several miles west of Eugene, out in the woods at the foot of the Coast Range. It has limited local sources of water – that is, water to which the rights haven’t already been grabbed by Eugene. It expects to grow significantly over the next 20 years, doubling its population or so. And it will need water, as a legal (under state law) as well as a practical matter.

Eugene has water, enough that it needs to take care that it uses enough to avoid losing water rights under risk of abandonment. It could meet the need. But does it want to?

Put another way, does Eugene want to contribute to sprawl and commuter traffic, which periodically chokes the city as it is?

Eugene Water, the utility (customer-owned, not a city department), hasn’t made that an issue, approving a water sales contract some months back. But this week, the city of Eugene has filed its own paperwork in the case, saying that because the city owns the water rights, that it has authority to decide whether the contract should be approved. And opinions at the city level appear to be mixed.

The Register-Guard, for example, noted “Councilor Alan Zelenka said councilors must keep in mind the city’s growth management policies that encourage compact growth and efficient use of public infrastructure in evaluating Veneta’s request.”

This could become a legislative matter before long.

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