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Commentary: Great news, or just another 'Trojan horse' for Oregon?


A recent article in the Herald and News titled “Scaled Back Klamath Groundwater Regulation Debated” was extremely misleading.

After reading this article, one would wonder why anyone would object to this new temporary rule, which would shut off 7 wells instead of 140. The 7 wells are within 500 feet of a surface water source and the 140 wells are within 1 mile.

As a friend of mine has often warned, “The devil is in the details.” I suppose this only applies if you actually read the rule itself. The reduction in wells being shut off to 7 is only for a 2 year period. By 2021, permanent rules will be put in place. Does anyone believe the 500 foot distance will remain? Most believe the distance will return to 1 mile, which will then put all 140 wells back in the bull’s eye.

The rule is supposed to be for only the Upper Klamath Basin. But the actual wording in the temporary rule (690-025-0040) states, “in the Klamath Basin, groundwater and surface water are hydraulically connected” and “wells that withdraw groundwater in the Klamath Basin reduce groundwater discharge and surface water flow.”

Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) admitted that this wording means the entire Klamath Basin, not just the Upper Klamath Basin. This wording will put all wells in the entire Klamath Basin at risk as well as other areas in Oregon. Does this paint a very different picture from the “scaled back” direction?

When OWRD orders a well to be turned off, they are not claiming that the well in question is interfering in any substantial amount. Their computer model only has to indicate that your well may be keeping one drop of water from reaching a surface water source with no site specific science. OWRD actually admitted that proving you are innocent is not even possible.

Wait a minute! I was always led to believe that in the United States of America, you are innocent until proven guilty. I guess this concept no longer applies in Oregon. Unfortunately in Oregon, what is actually law and what is policy doesn’t always match.

This direction may also open up third party litigation against previous and future Department of Environmental Quality contamination sites. There are at least 380 sites in Klamath County.

Many do not believe OWRD has the statutory authority to shut off a well under the existing rules. Many suits have been filed by well owners in the Klamath Basin, challenging OWRD’s overreach. OWRD already spent their current litigation budget of $835,628. They then were given an additional $1,352,526 that will last until June, 2019.

This temporary hiatus is a blatant attempt to reduce OWRD’s litigation costs in the Klamath Basin. Even though they claim this is not the case. Now OWRD is looking for an additional $1 million for future litigation costs. With state agencies such as this, no wonder Gov. Kate Brown is looking for $2.6 billion in additional taxes. Whatever happened to living within your means?

Decades ago, OWRD was very supportive of actual beneficial uses of state water. There was a great amount of trust for the Department’s actions. Those feelings of trust are nonexistent today. Just ask any surface or groundwater irrigator, the cities of Klamath Falls, Chiloquin, Bly and numerous commercial businesses in Klamath County, and you may begin to understand where the lack of trust comes from.

A little history may help explain where the lack of trust originates. In 1991, all irrigators received a letter from OWRD pertaining to the then ongoing surface water adjudication in the Klamath Basin. One sentence read, “If you only use water from a groundwater source or from a municipal water supply then you need not do anything further. You will not be a party to this proceeding.”

In other words, if you pump from a well or get your water from a municipal water supply, you were simply denied any possible Constitutional due process. In 2001 and more currently, surface water users were encouraged by OWRD to drill a well, and then told “your water will be safe”. That has not worked out well either. Irrigators were asked to give additional evidence including actual scientific data and tests. This was done but was ignored. OWRD has ignored some of their own testing that does not support their computer model.

Additional history in the state of Oregon: With OWRD’S endorsement of Klamath dam removal, we predicted years ago that this movement would expand to the Columbia and Snake River system. That is now aggressively happening. With the reallocation of the Klamath water in the State’s Klamath Basin Adjudication and being enforced by OWRD, we predicted this same scenario would happen in other basins in the state.

This attempt of reallocation is now happening in the Willamette Basin. We now predict that OWRD’s current attempt to claim, through computer modeling, that ground water and surface water are connected, will be expanded in other areas of the State.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is already using computer modeling in their attempt to regulate agriculture and timber land in regards to mercury pollution coming from China.

There are some good, honest people that work within OWRD. Some rationalize their actions by saying “they are just doing their job.” That was a common defense during the Nuremberg Trials. I hoped OWRD would sincerely attempt rebuilding that trust. That does not seem to be the case.

Bottom line is this: I would love to have water available for 2 years. But allowing this type of language, “In the Klamath Basin ground water and surface water are hydraulically connected”, is just another gigantic Trojan Horse that the Klamath Basin and the State of Oregon, cannot allow to happen.

Tom Mallams has been an irrigator in the Klamath Basin for the last 40 years, served as a Klamath County, Ore., commissioner and remains involved in numerous local and regional matters.


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