Oregon is a leader in voluntary streamflow restoration throughout the Pacific Northwest. Oregon’s primary mechanism for restoration of streamflows in our rivers and streams is the Instream Water Right Act (ORS 537.332 through 537.360), which was adopted in 1987.
July 20, 2017 marked the 30th Anniversary of Oregon's Instream Water Right Act. This Act provides several tools to create instream water rights and protect instream flows in Oregon. Two of the tools established under this Act created a process for certain state agencies to apply for and establish new instream water rights and also allowed the Department to convert existing minimum perennial streamflows to instream water rights. Since the Instream Water Right Act was adopted, the Department has issued more than 900 state agency-applied for instream water rights, and has converted more than 500 of the state's minimum perennial stream flows to instream water rights .
The Instream Water Right Act also established voluntary programs to convert existing water rights, such as for irrigation, commercial use, and other out of stream uses, to instream use. These voluntary programs include Instream Transfers and Instream Leases. The Allocation of Conserved Water Act (ORS 537.455 to OAR 537.500) also established a mechanism to create instream water rights from existing out-of-stream water rights.
Since the Instream Water Right Act and Allocation of Conserved Water Acts were adopted, the State of Oregon has worked on a voluntary basis with water right users, landowners, flow restoration organizations, watershed councils, soil and water conservation districts, irrigation districts, and other organizations to restore streamflows for fish and wildlife, recreation, and pollution abatement.