As Oregonians we love our 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.

State Capitol building
Reforming Antiquated Water Laws

Oregon's water laws, like those throughout the western U.S., were written over a century ago. Based on the Prior Appropriation Doctrine of "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.

To protect and restore streamflows, WaterWatch targets outdated water laws and policies for reform.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.  

Key advances 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
Jack Ohman Cartoon

Related Programs

Advocating for Reform

Water law is primarily state law. WaterWatch works at the Oregon State Capitol to provide a voice for healthy rivers and sound water policies.

Government Watch-Dogging

WaterWatch monitors all of the individual water allocation decisions across Oregon for compliance with the law and potential negative effects on our rivers. 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.