Holy water

  Most people know that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Less known is that it may guarantee freedom to irrigate. Bill Nelson, a part-time farmer in drought-stricken northeast Oregon, says his new Church of the Holy Water has one central tenet: Its 25 members must have unlimited water use. He hopes this will place his "flock" outside jurisdiction of the Oregon Water Resources Department on the ground that irrigation is a religious rite that cannot be regulated by the state. He founded his church after state regulators began shutting down wells in the area, including some owned by Nelson and others now members of the "water-centered" church. Martha Pagel, Oregon's water resources director, says she expects the church to garner more publicity than water. "We thought we'd seen it all," she says. "We compliment him on his creativity."