Neighbor Relations Water Rights


Water Rights

A farmer's time-honored claim to his water--nothing is more important to his survival. Given that Whitman Mission is essentially a farm surrounded by other farms, disputes over water are inevitable. Particular sensitivity is required by park superintendents when negotiating rights that have been disputed intermittently since the park's inception. Unfortunately, the history of the 47-year old controversy is beyond the scope of this study. Instead, a brief mention of the issues will suffice to give park managers an indication of the import of water rights.

Like most issues, the water rights controversy began in the 1940s centering, then as now, on rights to Doan Creek. As already mentioned, neighbor E B. Miller complained about Superintendent Weldon diverting "his" water from Doan Creek for use at the Monument. In fact, neighbors Miller, Shelden, Harold Bowers, and the National Park Service all had legitimate claim to the water so a Doan Creek water use schedule was developed in 1952 for all four parties. [124] The schedule was updated in 1960 and 1962 for the park and neighbors Frazier, Shelden, and Ken Wasser.

In 1963 the watercourse changed when, as part of Mission 66, the park's irrigation ditch was relocated south of the Oregon Trail. Rights to Doan Creek's water is still the main point of contention. Whenever disputes arise, they usually include claims of unfair diversion or excessive usage of this water.

Since water for the downstream water users must flow through the park, maintaining the ditch, both on the grounds and before it enters the mission, is important. At least since 1950, all parties that benefited from the water cooperated and periodically cleaned the ditch. [125] A formal agreement signed in 1963 stated that the park staff was responsible for keeping the ditch clean to ensure maximum flow to the neighbors. [126] Current neighbor Richard Bughi, who has lived near the park since 1971, explained that "several times a year we get together to work on the ditch," [127] at the point before it enters the park boundary. Indeed, Molly Hanebut, owner of this property, remembers that her principal business with the park concerned the overflow from this ditch:

They had to keep the ditch clean so that the water wouldn't overflow . . . . Having stock in a pasture, they're going to drink water wherever they can get to it . . . they stick their heads through and break the fence. Oh, my husband and I built so many fences it makes me sick to think about it. [128]

Although the ditch is cleaned each year, disputes still arise over which section of the ditch is the government's responsibility and which section is the neighbors' responsibility.

Of any controversy at Whitman Mission, the water rights is one of the most complicated and continuous, and of major concern to the neighbors. Bill Vollendorf of Walla Walla, an appraiser and park supporter, wrote a brief chronology of the controversy in 1984; an expanded water rights study would facilitate future management of this issue.

Most of the nearby farmers have been neighbors of the park for many years: current neighbors, the Sheldens and Mrs. Hanebut, had their farms before the park's establishment, while the "new kid on the block," Richard Bughi, has lived west of the park for 16 years. At the very least, when administrators understand the controversial issues involving the neighbors and how they have been managed in the past, chances are good that they can manage them fairly in the future.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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