Sound Water Policy

Sound Water Policy

Oregonians love their amazing rivers, but protection of the natural streamflows that we enjoy will only occur if we continue to reform and improve Oregon’s antiquated water laws and policies.

Reforming Antiquated Water Laws

Oregon’s water laws, like those throughout the west, were written over a century ago. Based on the [prior appropriation doctrine] (“first in time, first in right”), these laws leave many of Oregon’s rivers and streams without enough water to support fish, wildlife and recreation.

Copyright Jack Ohman.

To protect and restore streamflows, WaterWatch targets outdated water laws and policies for reform. Our goal is to ensure that enough water is left in our rivers to sustain the fish, wildlife, and people who value healthy rivers.

We work in the legislature, the courts, with state and federal agencies and with other stakeholders at the intersection of water law and river conservation to protect and restore streamflows in Oregon’s rivers.


Here are just a few of the key advances we have secured:

  • Passing Oregon’s 1987 landmark Instream Water Rights Act, protecting over 1,400 Oregon river reaches
  • Securing a critical fish protection standard  for old, unused municipal water permits in 2005
  • Successfully pressing Oregon to adopt a river flow mitigation program to counter groundwater pumping in the Deschutes Basin

Learn more about our Accomplishments and our Programs.

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