From an August 1 newsletter by state Representative Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.
It has become increasingly evident, over the past several years, that the Oregon Water Resources Department is no longer a friend of agriculture.
Perhaps their position was best demonstrated by the lack of support for the Department’s budget. On the day their budget was to be voted on the Senate floor, the only letter of support was from the Oregon Conservation Network. There was no letter of support from any farm, ranch, nursery, groundwater or industrial water users..... NONE!
A companion Department fee bill, HB 2259, was returned to the Senate Rules Committee from the Senate floor because there were not enough votes to pass the bill. The Committee significantly reduced the requested fee increases. Our bipartisan coalition forced that nearly unprecedented action, because we believed the fee increases were absurdly excessive and the purpose of many of the fee increases were counterproductive to Oregon’s economy.
The Oregon Conservation Network is a coalition of more than 40 mostly extreme environmentalist organizations. Some of the Networks stated priorities for the recently concluded legislative session included:
To promote a tax on each water right in order to support more stringent water regulation.
To manage Oregon waters to encourage more transfers from agricultural use to in stream flows for the benefit of fish.
To create a ban on suction dredge gold mining in Oregon.
And, to expand Oregon Scenic Rivers to include not only rivers but creeks and small tributaries.
Most of the Network’s legislative agenda was either introduced or supported by the Oregon Water Resources Department. The Department actively promoted a mosaic of legislation that, in its entirety, would have significantly changed existing Oregon water law.
Virtually all proposed bills would have either further regulated out of stream water use or enhanced the Department’s ability to authorize transfers of existing irrigation water rights to in stream flows. Several attempts were introduced to provide the Department authority to buy and sell water rights through contracts with little regard for priority dates or potential injury to other water right holders.
The Department’s efforts to increase their revenue included new and increased fees for services, a substantial new fee to change the name on a water right certificate or permit, and a new annual $100 tax on all water rights. They explained that they needed the extra money to help implement their proposed changes.
It appears that the Conservation Network’s primary purpose for supporting the expansion of scenic rivers is to restrict the use of private land and water resources.
Current law provides that all uses of private land within a quarter of a mile of a scenic river are strictly regulated. No new surface water diversions are allowed from any Oregon Scenic River. No new wells for irrigation are allowed, without bucket for bucket mitigation in the event that the groundwater aquifer is considered to be connected to the scenic waterway.
In fact, any existing well may be ruled-off if the well is constructed within a mile of the scenic river or a tributary of the scenic river. The Department has the legal authority to shut down any such well, regardless of the priority date of the well.
With the current drought conditions in Southern Oregon, and the Klamath River adjudication being implemented, you may not have noticed that the Oregon Water Resources Department is already doing these things in the Klamath River Basin. The Department has refused to permit or delayed the permitting of a number of new wells that were constructed in the upper basin during the past four years.
At the same time, the Department was working on a modeled analysis of the regional aquifer in the upper basin. That four year modeling study has recently been completed. To no ones’ great surprise, the Department has concluded, from the model, the aquifer is connected with the scenic Klamath River. (more…)