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Water Protections and Restrictions
managing water appropriations
 

Basin-by-Basin Water Use Restrictions

Some waters within the state may be closed to new appropriation by legislative action or restricted by an administrative rule or order of the Water Resources Commission. These restrictions on new uses from streams and ground water aquifers are adopted to assure sustained supplies for existing water users and to protect important natural resources. Except in very severe situations (e.g., critical groundwater areas), these restrictions do not affect existing water uses, only the Department’s ability to authorize new uses in these basins.
 
Basin Programs

The Water Resources Commission adopts basin programs to set policies for managing river basins. A river basin includes all the land area, surface water bodies, aquifers, and tributary streams that drain into the major namesake river. A map of the state’s river basins is on the last page of this booklet.
 
Basin programs include water-use “classifications” that describe the types of new water right applications that may be considered by the Department. Applicants should check with the Department before submitting an application to determine what classifications have been adopted on the proposed source of water.
 
The Commission has adopted basin programs for all but two of the state’s 18 major river basins. Although the Commission has not adopted comprehensive basin programs for the Klamath and Malheur Lake basins, use of water in those basins is still subject to other administrative rules. The Commission may revise classifications in basin programs when the lack of available water or other factors indicate that new appropriations should not be allowed.
 

Any change in the classification of a stream or aquifer restricts only new uses of water. 
 
Critical Ground Water Areas

The law requires that when pumping of groundwater exceeds the long-term natural replenishment of the underground water reservoir, the Water Resources Com-mission must act to declare the source a critical groundwater area and restrict water use. The law is designed to prevent excessive declines in groundwater levels. The order setting the limits of the critical area may also provide for certain users of water to have preference over other users, regardless of established water right priority dates. Critical groundwater areas also can be declared if there is interference between wells and senior surface water users or deterioration of groundwater quality.
 
Once a critical groundwater proceeding is initiated by the Commission, no new well permits are issued during the course of the proceeding. The final order may restrict both existing and future uses in order to stabilize the resource.
 
To date, Oregon has declared seven critical groundwater areas. The critical areas are Cow Valley near Vale; The Dalles in Wasco County; Cooper Mountain-Bull Mountain southwest of Beaverton and Tigard; and the Butter Creek, Ordnance (alluvial and basalt) and Stage Gulch areas in Morrow and Umatilla Counties.
 
Ground Water Limited Areas

The northern Willamette Valley and much of the Colum-bia River plateau contain many sources of groundwater that are isolated in volcanic rock. These aquifers are in the Columbia River Basalt group, or basalt for short. Heavy pumping from the basalt and another geologic unit, the Troutdale Formation, have caused declines in these areas.
 
The Commission has established 12 “groundwater limited areas” in the northern Willamette Valley. These areas are in the following approximate locations: Sandy-Boring, Damascus, Gladtidings, Kingston, Mt. Angel, Sherwood-Dammasch-Wilsonville, Stayton-Sublimity, Parrett Mountain, Chehalem Mountain, Eola Hills, South Salem Hills, and Amity Hills-Walnut Hill. The Willamette and Sandy Basin programs list the limitations. Outside the Willamette Valley are the Fort Rock and Ella Butte limited areas. Through changes to the basin programs, new water rights in these areas are restricted to a few designated uses.
 
 
 
Management Area: Restricted Classification, Limited Areas, Critical Areas
 

The Department’s role is to protect existing water rights by preventing excessive groundwater declines, restoring aquifer stability, and preserving aquifers with limited storage capacity for designated high public value uses. As more wells are drilled, the Department may find other areas where use from basalt and other aquifers must be limited. Such limitation applies to the specific aquifer that a well is tapping. In some cases, water may still be available at a different depth from a different geologic formation.
 
Groundwater Closure
The Commission may close aquifers to new withdrawals where additional use is not sustainable.  The Victor Point area near Silverton is the only area closed at this time.
Commission and Department
 
1. Oregon Water Laws
water management in Oregon
 
2. Protections and Restrictions
managing water appropriations
 
3. New Water Rights
gaining authorization to use water
 
4. Other Water Rights
authorization for water use
 
5. Transferring Rights
existing rights for new users
 
6. Canceling Rights
loss of water rights through non-use
 
7. Conservation
encouraging efficient water use
 
8. Finding Water Rights
determining if you have a water right
 
9. Enforcing Water Laws
watermasters and field staff protecting rights and resources
 
10. Region Managers and Offices
 
11. Fees
 
Appendix A
other development permits
 
Water Measurement Conversions