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."