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Draft groundwater rules: Great news or just another Trojan Horse?

  • Tom Mallams — Tom Mallams is a Beatty irrigator and former Klamath County Commissioner.

A recent article in the Herald and News entitled “Scaled Back Klamath Groundwater Regulation Debated” was extremely misleading.

After reading this article, one would wonder why anyone would object to this new temporary rule, which would shut off 7 wells instead of 140. The 7 wells are within 500 feet of a surface water source and the 140 wells are within 1 mile.

As a friend of mine has often warned,” the devil is in the details.” I suppose this only applies if you actually read the rule itself.

Temporary rules a bait and switch

The reduction in wells being shut off to 7 is only for a two-year period. By 2021, permanent rules will be put in place. Does anyone believe the 500 foot distance will remain? Most believe the distance will return to 1 mile, which will then put all 140 wells back in the bull’s eye.

The rule is supposed to be for only the Upper Klamath Basin. But the actual wording in the temporary rule, (690-025-0040) states “In the Klamath Basin, groundwater and surface water are hydraulically connected” and “Wells that withdraw groundwater in the Klamath Basin reduce groundwater discharge and surface water flow.”

Oregon Water Resources Department, (OWRD), admitted that this wording means the entire Klamath Basin, not just the Upper Klamath Basin. This wording will put all wells in the entire Klamath Basin at risk as well as other areas in Oregon. Does this paint a very different picture from the “scaled back” direction?

When OWRD orders a well to be turned off, they are not claiming that the well in question is interfering in any substantial amount. Their computer model only has to indicate that your well may be keeping one drop of water from reaching a surface water source with no site specific science. OWRD actually admitted that proving you are innocent is not even possible.

Statutory authority questioned

Wait a minute! I was always led to believe that in the United States of America, you are innocent until proven guilty. I guess this concept no longer applies in Oregon. Unfortunately in Oregon, what is actually law and what is policy doesn’t always match.

This direction may also open up third-party litigation against previous and future DEQ contamination sites. There are at least 380 sites in Klamath County.

Many do not believe OWRD has the statutory authority to shut off a well under the existing rules. Many lawsuits have been filed by well owners in the Klamath Basin, challenging OWRD’s overreach. OWRD already spent their current litigation budget of $835,628. They were given an additional $1,352,526 that will last until June, 2019.

This temporary hiatus is a blatant attempt to reduce OWRD’s litigation costs in the Klamath Basin. Even though, they claim this is not the case. Now, OWRD is looking for an additional $1 million for future litigation costs.

With state agencies such as this, no wonder Gov. Kate Brown is looking for $2.6 billion dollars in additional taxes. Whatever happened to living within your means?

Decades ago, OWRD was very supportive of actual beneficial uses of state water. There was a great amount of trust for the department’s actions. Those feelings of trust are nonexistent today. Just ask any surface or groundwater irrigator, Cities of Klamath Falls, Chiloquin, Bly and numerous commercial businesses in Klamath County, and you may begin to understand where the lack of trust comes from.

A bit of history

A little history may help explain where the lack of trust originates. In 1991, all irrigators received a letter from OWRD pertaining to the then ongoing surface water adjudication in the Klamath Basin.

One sentence reads “If you only use water from a groundwater source or from a municipal water supply then you need not do anything further. You will not be a party to this proceeding.”

In other words, if you pump from a well or get your water from a municipal water supply, you were simply denied any possible Constitutional due process. In 2001 and more currently, surface water users were encouraged by OWRD to drill a well, and then told “your water will be safe.”

That has not worked out well either. Irrigators were asked to give additional evidence including actual scientific data and tests. This was done but was ignored. OWRD has ignored some of their own testing that does not support their computer model.

There are some good, honest people that work within OWRD. Some rationalize their actions by saying “they are just doing their job.” That was a common defense during the Nuremberg Trials. I hoped OWRD would sincerely attempt rebuilding that trust. That does not seem to be the case.

Bottom line is this: I would love to have water available for two years. But allowing this type of language, “In the Klamath Basin, ground water and surface water are hydraulically connected,” is just another gigantic Trojan Horse that the Klamath Basin cannot allow to happen.

I would encourage all to attend and make public comments at the hearings. Hearings information is attached:

Hearings listed:

Local rules governing control of well use in the Upper Klamath Basin. Comments due by March 4 at 5 p.m.

The Agency requests public comment on whether other options should be considered for achieving the rule's substantive goals while reducing negative economic impact of the rule on business.

Contact: Racquel Rancier, rules coordinator, 503-986-0828; email racquel.r.rancier@oregon.gov

725 Summer Street NE Ste. A, Salem,OR 97301


  • Feb. 21, 3:30 p.m.; Oregon Water Resources Dept.l 725 Summer Street NE, Suite A, Room 124 Salem, OR 97301
  • Feb. 26, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; officer Ivan Gall, Oregon Institute of Technology, 3201 Campus Drive, Mt. Scott Room; Klamath Falls, OR 97601



BELOW: 1990 OWRD letter to well owners

1990 OWRD letter to well owners












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