"Drop in groundwater perplexes scientists," reads the headline on the top story in today's edition of Bend's Only Daily Newspaper.
Seems those scientists have discovered a "mysterious" drop in the underground water table in the area bounded by Redmond, Prineville and Powell Butte. "One mile south of Redmond, for instance, they've seen water levels underground decline nearly 20 feet in the last 15 years," says the story.
It goes on to explain that the US Geological Survey speculated in 2008 that the decline could be partly due to decreasing rainfall since the 1950s. But that isn't enough to explain it all, the USGS said: Wells "in the more developed parts of the basin appear to show declines larger than what would be expected due to climate alone."
If the water table continues to fall, said Kimberley Priestley of the conservation group Water Watch of Oregon, it could lead to - gasp! - restrictions on development. "I would think it would be of interest not only to the state but to developers," she told The Bulletin. "If we're seeing declines [in the water table], then that could bring a whole new layer of management."
The scientists may be "perplexed" (or at least The Bulletin says they are) but the explanation seems pretty obvious to The Eye: All those new lawns and golf courses that have been created in the past 10 or 15 years take a lot of water, and they mostly suck it out of the ground.
We're hoping some kind of management plan can be developed and enforced for the Central Oregon aquifer before it meets the fate of the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir in the High Plains states that's being pumped dry at an annual rate equivalent to the flow of 18 Colorado Rivers.
We're also hoping (without much hope) that the results of the USGS study give pause to those who are screaming "Full speed ahead!" for destination resorts that would pump water out of the Metolius Basin.
Congratulations to The Bulletin for having the integrity to report this story and play it at the top of its front page. We hope its editorial board will have the integrity to draw the logical conclusions.
Gosh 'n' gollies - when you pump more water out of the ground than nature puts back in, the water table goes down! Who'd a thunk it?