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Klamath Regulation Update

 

Klamath Basin Regulation and Water Distribution

 
July 2017 Update
 
 
The Department has created a web portal containing information about calls (requests) for water made by senior water users in the Klamath Basin. The site contains the stream location, status of calls for water received, whether regulation for water distribution has occurred, and the date of priority to which junior water rights are not allowed to be diverting water.  Click here for details. 
 
The Klamath Tribes hold determined water right claims with a priority date of time immemorial, making them the most senior water users in the Upper Klamath Basin. The determined claims allow the Tribes to provide for a healthy riparian habitat. The Department has a web page with information on the Klamath Tribes’ instream determined claims, which displays a graph for the water year, and shows the current mean daily streamflow along with past streamflow measurements made by Department staff.
 
This information will help water users know when water is available for diversion, based on whether the senior tribal determined claim is met. Please note: the graph does not display whether regulation is in effect due to calls for water from other senior users.  Click here for details.
 
Wood River Update
 
In early May, the Oregon Water Resources Department (Department) regulated the Wood River and its tributaries for all water uses back through 1864. On May 31, 15 of the Wood River area water user entities filed legal action in the form of a Petition for Judicial Review in Marion County Circuit Court to stop enforcement of the regulation. Under Oregon law, the filing of a Petition for Judicial Review of a Water Resources Department order automatically stays (stops) enforcement of that order. 
 
While the matter goes through the court system, the Department can lift the stay and continue regulation if the Department finds that “substantial public harm” will result from the stay. The Department’s Director has found that the Wood River stay causes substantial public harm to the Upper Klamath Basin water user community, because it results in selective enforcement of water rights, leading some junior water right holders to receive water instead of senior users. This undermines the State’s priority-based water management system, and the rights of senior water right holders.

The stay also results in substantial public harm to the Klamath Tribes community, which has the most senior water rights in the basin. The Tribes’ water rights provide for productive fish, plant and wildlife habitat by protecting instream flows. The orders denying the stay do not affect the petitioner’s right, if any, to substantive review of the regulation orders in circuit court.

Background and Process for Water Distribution
Like most western states, Oregon follows the “prior appropriation” doctrine of water use, often referred to as “first in time, first in right.” This means that when there is insufficient water to satisfy all water rights, water users with senior priority dates make a “call” to receive water, and users with junior water rights are shut off until the rights of the senior users making the call are satisfied.
Prior to distributing water from junior users to senior users, the Department’s watermaster staff make field measurements to validate the call and determine whether there is adequate water at the senior right’s point of diversion to satisfy the senior user’s water right demand. Once the calls are validated, the Department must begin distributing water from junior (newer) water right diversions to benefit the senior users.
Watermaster staff will visit water users to inform them that water distribution is occurring, and to provide information on how to track the status of the regulation.  Water distribution notification can also occur by postal mailing of a notice of regulation, which requires junior water users to shut off their diversions, pumps, or wells. This process occurs across much of Oregon every year. Watermaster staff follow up with field checks to individual points of diversion to ensure that water use is in compliance with regulation orders.
Water users who have questions about the regulation for water distribution should contact the Klamath Falls Watermaster’s office at (541) 883-4182.