Support Sustainable Groundwater Management This Spring

The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) has proposed major revisions to how it issues new groundwater permits that will, at last, begin to rein in the state’s decades-long pattern of over-issuing pumping rights. The proposed rules are long overdue and, if enacted, would finally implement the guidelines of Oregon’s forward-looking, landmark 1955 Ground Water Act.

We need your voice and support for sustainable groundwater allocation this spring by submitting written comments to the OWRD by May 31st, and by attending one of the two remaining public meetings: Central Point on May 16th, and Salem on May 21st.

Some commercial agricultural and municipal interests have been pushing back on the proposed rules, so it is critical the state hear from Oregonians like you who support sustainable groundwater allocation.

The rules would apply to new groundwater permits only. They would not apply to, say, exempt domestic wells.

Oregon’s existing rules for issuing new groundwater permits have resulted in an over-issuance of groundwater permits, and have caused major groundwater level declines across the state that harm rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and springs that rely upon inputs of cold, clean groundwater. Declining groundwater levels have also harmed existing surface water rights, including instream water rights, and domestic well owners who rely on groundwater for drinking water and household use.

There are several important ways the state’s proposed rules will align with existing statute, and put Oregon on a better, more responsible path to groundwater sustainability:

  • Defining “reasonably stable” groundwater levels and preventing new groundwater permits from being issued when groundwater levels are not reasonably stable.
  • Establishing the amount and type of data needed to determine whether groundwater levels are reasonably stable — and requiring denial of a permit application if that data is not available.
  • Protecting senior surface water rights — including instream water rights — by requiring a full accounting of the impacts of proposed pumping on hydraulically connected rivers and streams. This is a critically important improvement because the state’s practice has resulted in issuance of groundwater permits that injure senior surface water rights.

Talking Points

The rule revisions span four separate rule divisions, but if you’re submitting remarks or giving public testimony at an upcoming meeting, keep your message simple:

  • OWRD’s proposed rules because they will result in more sustainable management of groundwater.
  • Better protection of streamflows and cold water inputs to rivers and streams from impacts of over-pumping hydraulically connected groundwater is of the utmost importance.
  • Challenges associated with the impacts of climate change make it even more important for the state stop over-issuing groundwater permits.
  • Improving how Oregon issues new groundwater permits is long overdue, and I look forward to adoption of the proposed rules.

Two of the four public hearings have already occurred: Bend on April 4th and La Grande on April 18th, but the Southern Oregon meeting in Central Point is coming up on Thursday, May 16th, at the Jackson County Auditorium.

OWRD will host an information-only session on the proposed rules at the meetings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with public comments from 7 to 9 p.m.

Southern Oregon
Thursday, May 16th
Jackson County Auditorium
7520 Table Rock Rd.
Central Point, OR 97502
Information session, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Public hearing, 7 to 9 p.m.

Salem (in-person and virtual)
Tuesday, May 21st
Oregon Water Resources Department
North Mall Office Building, Room 124
725 Summer St. NE
Salem, OR 97301
Information session, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. (Zoom registration link)
Public hearing, 7 to 9 p.m. (Zoom registration link)

Written comments are important too! Submit your comments by 5 p.m. on May 31st, 2024.

You can email your remarks to the Oregon Water Resources Department at wrd_dl_rule-coordinator@water.oregon.gov, or mail them to:

Laura Hartt
Oregon Water Resources Department
725 Summer St. NE, Suite A
Salem, OR 97301

Additional details on the need for revised groundwater allocation rules are included in letters from both WaterWatch of Oregon and the Oregon Water Partnership to the Oregon Water Resources Commission ahead of the agency’s Nov. 17th, 2023, meeting that featured a Groundwater Allocation Rulemaking Update on that meeting’s agenda.