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Water Management Programs

Distribution and Regulation

Oregon’s water laws are based on the principle of prior appropriation. This means the first person to obtain a water right on a stream is the last to be shut off in times of low streamflows. In water-short times, the water right holder with the oldest date of priority can demand the water specified in their water right regardless of the needs of junior users. If there is a surplus beyond the needs of the senior right holder, the water right holder with the next oldest priority date can take as much as necessary to satisfy needs under their right and so on down the line until there is no surplus. The date of application for a permit to use water usually becomes the priority date of the right. Watermasters respond to complaints from water users and determine in times of water shortage, which generally occur every year, who has the right to use water.

Each summer as streamflows drop, watermasters regulate junior users to provide water to the more senior users. On many streams throughout the state, by the end of summer, there is only enough water to supply users who established their rights in the late 1800s. All of the more recently established rights will have been regulated off by the watermaster

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Changing Water Rights

Water Right Transfers
Water rights are appurtenant to the land and pass from owner to owner when the land is sold. A water right may only be used for the purposes authorized under the right at the location identified in the right. Most changes in the use of water rights may only be made after approval by the Water Resources Department for a Water Right Transfer. A transfer may approve changes in the place of use, point of diversion, or character of use of a water right. In reviewing applications to transfer water rights, the Department is responsible for ensuring that other water right holders will not be injured by the change. more

Instream Leases
Oregon’s Instream Leasing program provides a voluntary means to aid the restoration and protection of streamflows. This arrangement provides benefits both to water right holders and to instream values by providing water users with options that protect their water rights while leasing water for instream benefits. more

Use of Reclaimed Water
Registration of the use of Reclaimed Water provides an opportunity to re-use effluent from certain municipal, industrial, and confined animal feeding operations. more

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Water Conservation

Municipal Water Management and Conservation Planning
Municipal water management and conservation planning provides a process through which cities and other municipal water suppliers estimate long-range water supply needs and identify alternatives, including water conservation programs, to meet those needs. The Department requires many municipal water suppliers to prepare plans as conditions of their water use permits or permit extensions. more

Agricultural Water Management and Conservation Planning
Agricultural water management and conservation planning provide a process through which irrigation districts and other agricultural water suppliers identify water conservation programs for implementation based on the suppliers´ needs and particular circumstances. more

Conservation Awards
The Water Resources Commission and Department periodically present awards to cities, irrigation districts and other water users for exemplary efforts in water management and conservation planning and in implementation of water conservation programs. Conservation awards are intended to recognize and publicize innovation and creativity in the implementation of water conservation programs. more

Oregon's Instream Water Right Act
Since the Instream Water Right Act was adopted in 1987, the Department has converted over 500 minimum perennial stream flows to instream water rights, and has issued over 900 state agency applied instream water rights. Additionally, Oregon leads the country in the flow restoration, with over 1,000 instream leases, instream transfers, and allocations of conserved water restoring streamflows for fish and wildlife, recreation, and pollution abatement. more 

Instream Accomplishments
Oregon is a leader in flow restoration throughout the Pacific Northwest.  OWRD works on a voluntary basis with water right users, landowners, flow restoration organizations, soil and water conservation districts, irrigation districts, and other organizations to restore flows in our rivers and streams.  OWRD’s programs for streamflow restoration include instream leasing, instream transfers, and allocations of conserved water.  A summary of our instream accomplishments utilizing these programs and others can be found here.
To check on the status of your instream transfer, please click here and enter your transfer number. 

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Allocation of Conserved Water

The Allocation of Conserved Water program is a voluntary activity that provides benefits to both water right holders and instream values.  The law allows a water user who conserves water to use a portion of the conserved water on additional lands, lease or sell the water, or dedicate the water to instream use.  more
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Water Measurement

In 2000, OWRD developed a strategy for improving water measurement statewide. The strategy was endorsed by the Water Resources Commission and includes a program to develop an inventory of significant diversions.  more

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Other Water Management Programs

Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds
The Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds is Oregon’s cooperative effort to restore salmon runs, improve water quality, and achieve healthy watersheds and strong communities throughout the state. The measures that the Water Resources Department is implementing include a variety of actions targeted to priority watersheds and streams to incrementally aid in improving salmonid habitat throughout the state. more

Aquifer Storage and Recovery
ASR allows for the injection of water that meets drinking water quality standards into an aquifer for later recovery and use. more

Artificial Ground Water Recharge
Artificial recharge involves the intentional addition of water diverted from another source to a ground water reservoir. more

Water Development Loan Fund
The Department administers the loan fund to offer eligible borrowers low-interest loans for water-related projects. more

Willamette Basin Reservoir Study
The Department is a partner in a cooperative cost-shared study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and more than 60 cities, special districts, organizations and commercial and industrial firms to determine if operational changes or modifications in the allocation of stored water would better serve present and future resource needs in the Willamette Basin. more

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