Guard isn't the answer for watershed safety

March 07, 2001 12:00 am

On a sunny day, you can see it gleaming like a jewel, both on a distant mountain slope and in the glass you raise to your lips to satisfy your thirst.

Its water from our watershed, one of Baker Citys prime assets. Only four cities in Oregon can boast drinking water so pure it doesnt have to be filtered.

We are one of them.

Its a priceless asset, although some dollar figures do apply. Theres the more than $1.4 million spent last summer to mitigate the danger of heavy fuel loads in the forested watershed and the estimated $10 million price tag carried by a water filtration system, a staggering figure for a city already cowed by a $600,000 sewer system repair.

So $10,000 doesnt seem like much to pay for an additional measure of security.

That is the proposed salary for a seasonal watershed guard, the one human outside of city crews and registered hunters who would be allowed to cross the threshold of the 10,000-acre sanctuary.

The position is a possible safeguard against scrutiny by the states Department of Environmental Quality, a preemptive strike on any possible concerns the agency could have about the operation of the watershed.

However, it has yet to be brought before the city council. As such, city staff still have time to explore other options.

We would like to offer a two-pronged alternative: first, a public relations campaign driving home the point that the watershed is our responsibility as citizens to care for and watch over not to mention keep out of.

And second, a network of property owners and recreationists modeled on Neighborhood Watch or the sheriffs Livestock Patrol. The people who live near the approaches to the watershed see who enters and leaves the area, and could keep track of license plate numbers in case a problem should arise.

And mountain bikers, hikers and ATV riders know who is crossing the boundary and recreating in the watershed. They should be encouraged to confront their friends and fellow recreationists to put a stop to unauthorized excursions into the watershed.

We suspect the actual number of illegal incursions into the watershed is rather small. The conclusion of last summers logging job in the watershed did include decommissioning a road built illegally in the watershed.

That is too much of a human presence, no doubt.

We just arent convinced a guard could effectively stop such activities.

A 10,000-acre beat would be a hard one to cover in any meaningful way. The guard might even be allowed to use a gasoline-powered vehicle to aid patrols. And that would be a hazard to the very asset the guard is aimed with protecting.

The need just isnt there yet for a seasonal guard. Aggressive PR and increased vigilance, coupled with strategic road closures, should continue to be enough to satisfy even the stingiest state agency.