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