Oregon Water Resources Commission Upholds Order Against McKenzie River Water Speculators

For Immediate Release
June 4, 2014

Oregon Water Resources Commission Upholds Order Against McKenzie River Water Speculators
Another Victory for McKenzie River and WaterWatch

McKenzie River Photo by Tracey Adams

McKenzie River
Photo by Tracey Adams

On May 29th, the Oregon Water Resources Commission 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 Commission’s decision affirms an Oregon Water Resources Department decision issued in March 2014 and 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.

The order is available here.

“The Oregon Water Resources Commission and the Oregon Water Resources Department made the right choice here in denying 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’s application proposed to lock up a large amount of McKenzie River water, but failed to identify any committed customers, failed to show plans for necessary water infrastructure, and still lacks the 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.

“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,” added Brown. “The Commission agreed with the Department and an administrative law judge that what the company was proposing was not a beneficial use but rather was speculative and therefore wasteful.”

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 60-day period follows in which parties can file an appeal with the Oregon Court of Appeals.

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.