Oregon Farmers and Agricultural Groups Voice Concern About New Groundwater Rights

Farmers and agricultural groups are concerned about the Oregon Water Resources Department’s (OWRD) decision to update its rules for issuing new groundwater rights.

Last year, an open letter issued on behalf of farm groups stated that the problem of sustaining water resources would never be resolved until the OWRD made responsible decisions based on scientific data. Farm groups are now calling on the OWRD to return to the drawing board.


Agricultural Sector Consumes 85% of State Water Resources

Farmers and agricultural groups represent 85% of Oregon’s water consumers. Their use of this resource, which includes water diverted from streams and rivers, has prompted the OWRD to reevaluate and update groundwater rights to protect and sustain available resources.

Although the agricultural sector agrees that Oregon must protect its groundwater levels from overpumping, they feel the OWRD is going “too far” with its new proposals.

The new rules will impact all basins, even those where no significant water level declines have been recorded, says the Oregon Farm Bureau’s (OFB) vice president of government and legal affairs, Lauren Poor. He says the proposals will reduce the number of groundwater permits issued by the OWRD. Poor says the OFB, a farmer lobbying group, is concerned that regulators of the new rules will clamp down on permit holders of existing groundwater rights.


Overpumping is Causing Wells to Run Dry

The OWRD is stepping in to curb the overpumping of groundwater aquifers that is taking place throughout the state, resulting in wells running dry. Dwindling water resources are beginning to affect commercial and residential sectors. Adding to the problem are factors such as climate change, drought, and deteriorating ecological and economic conditions.

The new rules will add clarity to the current definition of “reasonably stable” groundwater levels. In the future, applicants will be asked for proof that the groundwater supplies in their regions are sufficiently stable to warrant the issue of a new permit.

WaterWatch of Oregon executive director, Neil Brandt, describes the new proposals as a default switch to “NO” to new permits if groundwater levels are insufficient. The new proposals are a direct reversal of the existing policy that the default switch turns to “YES” if there is insufficient data available on groundwater levels.

Brandt says people cannot expect water resources to remain unaffected by overpumping.  He describes groundwater as “critical to life,” and if Oregonians wanted farms to continue operating in the state in the future, they had to accept that water resources needed to be controlled.

Justin Iverson, the groundwater manager at OWRD, says currently applicants can obtain permits to pump more water than snow and rainfall can replenish. He says there is also insufficient consideration for the long-term effects that a permit may have on existing resources, such as streams and rivers.


OWRD Calling for Public Input

As the state finds itself facing dwindling groundwater supplies, the OWRD is organizing a series of public meetings to gather input on its new proposals. Details on the public hearings and information sessions are:


Central Oregon

  • Date: Thursday, April 4
  • Information session: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Public hearing: 7-9 p.m.
  • Location: Deschutes Services Building, 1300 NW Wall Street, Bend, OR 97703


Eastern Oregon

  • Date: Thursday, April 18
  • Information session: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Public hearing: 7-9 p.m.
  • Location: Eastern Oregon University, Hoke Student Union Building, Room 339, 1 University Boulevard, La Grande, OR 97850


Southern Oregon

  • Date: Thursday, May 16
  • Information session: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Public hearing: 7-9 p.m.
  • Location: Jackson County Auditorium, 7520 Table Rock Road, Central Point, OR 97502


Salem and virtual

  • Date: Tuesday, May 21
  • Information session: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Public hearing: 7-9 p.m.
  • Location: Both in-person and virtual
  • In-person: Oregon Water Resources Department, North Mall Office Building, Room 124, 725 Summer Street NE, Salem, OR 97301
  • Virtually (via Zoom): information session registration link
  • Virtually (via Zoom): public hearing registration link





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