In Oregon, naturally found water is owned by the public–whether in a river, lake, or flowing underground. That means there are regulatory hoops to jump through to use water flowing near your property or to dig a well for pumping underground water to the surface.
Oregon’s water rights are granted and managed by the Water Resources Department under the direction of the Water Resources Commission. Together, they ensure our natural resources are accessed in a way that preserves water quantity, water quality, and ecosystem issues.
Fundamental provisions of Oregon’s Water Code
These four provisions outline the general sentiments behind the approval and management processes of the Water Resources Department:
- The surface or groundwater must be diverted from its source for a beneficial purpose and distributed without waste.
- The water rights are prioritized by date of approval, so rights-owners who received approval first are the last to be shut off from the supply during droughts or other shortages.
- Once approved, water rights generally attach to the land. When a property is sold, the rights usually transfer with the land to the new owner.
- A water right must be used as provided in the right at least once every five years; otherwise, it is forfeited and subject to cancellation.
There are many exceptions to the regulations that allow you to access water without a water rights permit. Some of those include:
- Emergency firefighting
- Rainwater collection
- Use of groundwater or surface water for stock watering
- Irrigating less than a half-acre of non-commercial lawn from a well.
- Domestic purposes of less than 15,000 gallons per day from a well.
For more information about exemptions, refer to ORS 537.545 and 537.141
Owning a parcel of land is exciting, and developing it to meet your needs is rewarding. Yet, before you begin to spend money on your plans, it’s best to have them reviewed by professionals to make sure they meet all applicable laws, regulations, and land-use codes in your area.
At Richard Stevens & Associates, we specialize in helping our clients obtain the rural and urban land use planning permits they need to build and develop properties throughout Southern Oregon and beyond. Contact us today, and let’s discuss how we can help your project proceed smoothly.