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Klamath Basin Regulation and Water Distribution

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.

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 and has for a century. 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.
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March 2018 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.  


The Klamath Tribes hold determined water right claims with a priority date of time immemorial, making them the most senior water right holders in the Upper Klamath Basin. The determined claims allow the Tribes to provide for a healthy riparian habitat among other instream needs. 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.
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Current Regulation Update as of March 2018

The Klamath Tribes submitted a call for enforcement of the Tribal determined instream claims on March 8, 2018.  The US Bureau of Indian Affairs provided concurrence of the call on March 9, 2018.  On March 13, 2018, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a Determination of a State Drought Emergency in Klamath County.  At this time, staff in the Watermaster’s office are measuring stream flow to validate the call. 

Hydrogeologists in the Groundwater Section are completing an analysis of wells under Oregon Administrative Rules 690-009 to identify wells that are subject to regulation to provide relief to a validated senior surface water call. Water users who have questions about water distribution and regulation should contact the Klamath Falls Watermaster’s office at (541) 883-4182.

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Klamath Water Use Preference

Click here for information on temporary emergency rules granting a preference to water rights for human consumption use in Klamath County and water rights for stock water use in the Williamson River Basin within Klamath County.
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