Oregon Court of Appeals Upholds Order Against McKenzie River Water Speculators

Oregon Court of Appeals Upholds Order Against McKenzie River Water Speculators
Another Victory for McKenzie River and WaterWatch

November 15, 2017

Order available here.

Mckenzie River by Doug Heiken

Mckenzie River by Doug Heiken

Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a final order denying the Willamette Water Company’s controversial application for a permit to withdraw 34 cubic feet per second (22 million gallons per day) from the McKenzie River. The Court’s decision affirms an earlier decision issued in May 2014 by the Oregon Water Resources Commission to deny the water permit application. That decision in turn had affirmed an Oregon Water Resources Department order in March 2014, as well as the ruling of an administrative law judge in 2012 that the permit application be denied. WaterWatch sparked the review process by protesting the permit application in March of 2010.

“We are pleased that the Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the Oregon Water Resource Commission’s decision to deny this speculative water proposal by Willamette Water Company,” said Lisa Brown, Staff Attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon. “Under Oregon law, Oregon’s waters belong to the public – not to private water companies hoping to profit by monopolizing the resource for future sale.”

The company proposed to lock up a large amount of McKenzie River water, but failed to identify any committed customers, could not complete the water development project in the time allowed, and failed to apply for needed land use approvals for developing the water project. The applicant also challenged the fish protection conditions recommended by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and proposed by the Oregon Water Resources Department.

“In 2014, the Oregon Water Resources Commission correctly found that Willamette Water Company’s proposal was illegal because it was attempting to tie up a large block of water for undefined future sale, rather than proposing to use the water beneficially as required by law, and because the company had failed to apply for needed land use approvals for its project,” added Brown. “The Court agreed with the Commission, the Department, and an administrative law judge that because the company could not develop the permit in a timely manner, the agency properly denied it.”

The permit application drew considerable local media attention and inspired community concern regarding one of the public’s most valuable resources – water – in one of the state’s most iconic waterways. The harmful proposal threatened a river prized by fishermen, boaters, and nature enthusiasts from around the world. The McKenzie’s renowned beauty, along with the fish and wildlife it supports, in turn help sustain jobs and economic activity in the region.

WaterWatch protested the permit application on March 12, 2010, on grounds that it did not conform to state requirements and that the applicant showed no need for the water. The administrative law judge, Jim Han, stated in the April 27, 2012 order that the “[a]pplication proposes a speculative use for more water than the Company could establish it could put to actual beneficial use” as required by law. He found that granting the permit would impair or be detrimental to the public interest and that the permit application should be denied. Since then, the state has consistently agreed with him.

A 35-day period follows in which parties can file a petition for review with the Oregon Supreme Court.

WaterWatch is the only river conservation group that monitors water allocation proposals, agency decisions, and actual water use across Oregon. Our goals are legal compliance, agency accountability, and to ensure that rivers and the public have a voice in decisions affecting our rivers, streams, and aquifers.