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May 30, 2005 Seattle Times

Rural Oregonians fear bill is threat to their water right

SALEM, Ore. For most city dwellers, a water meter keeps track of every gallon that comes out of a garden hose or shower head.

But not so for their country cousins mainly agricultural irrigators but also rural homeowners with wells many of whom are holders of water rights.

But with pressure on limited water resources rising in the high desert and elsewhere, the Legislature is considering what proponents call a "baby step" toward a measurement system that might stretch the state's over-appropriated water supply.

The state Senate last week passed a bill that would enact a voluntary statewide tracking system overseen by the state's Water Resources Department. It is pending in the House.

"This bill is about moral persuasion," said Sen. Frank Shields, D-Portland. "If people change what they are doing and use less water, we all win."

Tight water supplies have long pitted irrigators against fishermen and environmentalists over who gets what.

Cities, too, want more water rights.

While a voluntary metering system may sound innocuous, Senate Bill 731 leaves irrigators wondering about motivation.

Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, who remembers the Klamath Basin water conflict in 2001, said the legislation would need only minor tweaking to require statewide metering.

Most farmers, he said, do not use all of the water to which they are entitled.


Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Jacksonville, said some irrigation water helps wildlife by creating wetlands, and that could be lost if irrigation is reduced.

Farmers use only what they need, said Rex Barber, a Terrebonne farmer. "The insinuation that agriculture is wasting water just doesn't fly," he said.

Many worry that a voluntary system could become mandatory and require farmers to buy and install expensive meters. Some fear that irrigators then could be charged for the water they use.

A century ago, water rights helped develop land and agriculture, Barber said. Now, he said, the push for conservation threatens to limit that supply, increasing the cost of farming.

The state can require measurement on a case-by-case basis. Since 1995, the water agency has required meters at more than 9,000 points of diversion for new water-right permits.

Also, government agencies, cities, counties, schools and irrigation districts must report water use.

Conservationists complain that Oregon's water is allocated to the point where rivers could be fully drained.

"Installing head gates and meters on water diversions can be a tremendous boon to rivers," according to the Web site of Portland-based WaterWatch. "It can also help farmers spot problems with their irrigation systems and reduce their water use, leaving more in stream to support fish, wildlife and recreation."

Oregon water laws are based on "prior appropriation," meaning the first person to obtain a water right is the last to be shut off.

WaterWatch lobbyist Doug Myers said his group hopes grant money would help pay for meters but says the fear that farmers will be billed for water is "paranoia."

"I don't see the Legislature ever having the courage to charge for the use of the water, even though the water belongs to the people of the state," Myers said.

But Shields said the limited supply and rising demand for water will make it in this century what oil was in the last one.

"We need to be carefully watching and measuring all our uses of water; it's that important," he said.

Search for Legislative Measures by Measure Number - Off Oregon.gov

Relating to measurement of water use; and declaring an emergency.

     73rd OREGON LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY--2005 Regular Session

NOTE:  Matter within  { +  braces and plus signs + } in an
amended section is new. Matter within  { -  braces and minus
signs - } is existing law to be omitted. New sections are within
{ +  braces and plus signs + } .

LC 2595

                         Senate Bill 731



The following summary is not prepared by the sponsors of the
measure and is not a part of the body thereof subject to
consideration by the Legislative Assembly. It is an editor's
brief statement of the essential features of the measure as

  Requires all water users to measure amounts of water withdrawn
or stored.
  Applies to new water users on and after July 1, 2005. Applies
to existing water users on January 1, 2010. Allows Water
Resources Commission to require water users to report water use
  Declares emergency, effective on passage.

                        A BILL FOR AN ACT
Relating to measurement of water use; and declaring an emergency.
  Whereas the measurement and reporting of water use benefits all
water users and is critical to the effective management of the
water resources of this state; and
  Whereas the promotion of measurement and reporting of water use
by all water users is valuable public policy; and
  Whereas local, state and federal cooperation and coordination
should be encouraged in order to provide financial support for
water use measurement and reporting; now, therefore,
Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
  SECTION 1.  { + Section 2 of this 2005 Act is added to and made
a part of ORS chapter 536. + }
  SECTION 2.  { + (1) As used in this section, 'water user' means
any person who:
  (a) Holds a water right permit issued under ORS 537.211 or a
water right certificate issued under ORS 537.250;
  (b) Holds a reservoir permit issued under ORS 537.400 or a
reservoir certificate issued under ORS 537.407, or who stores
water in a reservoir otherwise exempt under ORS 537.405;
  (c) Holds a ground water permit issued under ORS 537.625 or a
ground water certificate issued under ORS 537.630;
  (d) Uses water pursuant to a registration statement filed under
ORS 539.240 or holds a water right certificate issued under ORS
  (e) Uses water under a limited license issued under ORS
537.143; or
  (f) Uses water otherwise exempt under ORS 537.545.
  (2) In addition to a requirement to measure the amount of water
used imposed pursuant to ORS 390.835, 537.099 or 540.435, all
water users shall install water measurement devices that provide
for measurement of the amount of water withdrawn or stored at the

point of diversion and that allow for the determination of the
rate and duty of water appropriated.
  (3) Any water user required to install a water measurement
device under this section shall maintain the device in good
working order for the period of water use.
  (4) The Water Resources Commission may require any water user
or group of water users to report water use measurements pursuant
to a schedule established by rule by the commission. + }
  SECTION 3.  { + (1) The requirement to install water
measurement devices imposed by section 2 of this 2005 Act applies
  (a) Water users, as that term is defined by section 2 of this
2005 Act, first withdrawing or storing water on or after the
effective date of this 2005 Act, on and after July 1, 2005; and
  (b) All water users, as that term is defined by section 2 of
this 2005 Act, on and after January 1, 2010.
  (2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, the Water
Resources Commission may require any water user to install a
water measurement device on or after the effective date of this
2005 Act. + }
  SECTION 4.  { + This 2005 Act being necessary for the immediate
preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency
is declared to exist, and this 2005 Act takes effect on its
passage. + }





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