As Oregonians we love our amazing rivers and wetlands, but protection of natural streamflows 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, streams, and wetlands 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To protect and restore streamflows, WaterWatch targets outdated water laws and policies for reform.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 enough water is left in our rivers to sustain the fish, wildlife, and Oregon communities that value healthy rivers.

We work in the legislature, the courts, with state and federal agencies, and with allied stakeholders at the intersection of water law and river conservation. 

Key Advances Include:
  • Passage of Oregon's landmark 1987 Instream Water Rights Act, which protects over 1,400 Oregon river reaches today.
  • A critical fish protection standard for old or unused municipal water permits in 2005.
  • Successful adoption of 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.