Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Water rights group appeals refuge permit

By MITCH LIES Oregon Staff Writer 4/28/05

SALEM – A water rights advocacy group last week filed an appeal contesting an off-season water right granted by the state to a federal agency for use on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Water For Life Executive Director Emilie Wolff said the water right application did not comport with Oregon water law’s standards on beneficial use and over-appropriation and sets an unsettling precedent.

“We definitely think the precedent is scary for the rest of Oregon,” she said.

The group April 11 asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to review the permit, which was granted in February to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among the claims advanced in the appeal, Water For Life claims that the state relaxed water permit standards when it granted the 820.4 cubic feet per second water right in the Donner und Blitzen River Basin and stripped the state of its ability to allocate for future uses in the basin.

“They took an off-season right for every drop of water that will ever run through that basin,” Wolff said. “Eight-hundred and twenty cfs is a gigantic amount of water. It’s a basin at full capacity of flood stage.”

Wolff said the group wasn’t overly concerned over the potential of injury to existing water right holders – the refuge’s new rights are the most junior in the basin and others would have priority in the case of conflict – but the group is very concerned over the precedent.

Wolff said water permit applicants typically explain in detail what they plan to do with their water. In this case, however, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stipulated only that they would use the right for wildlife refuge management.

“They’ve given the agency a right in a way they would never give to a rancher,” she said. “It’s definitely precedent-setting. We definitely think that the department is overstepping its statutory bounds.”

Adam Sussman of the Oregon Water Resources Department said he believes that the USFWS satisfied Oregon water law standards in its permit application. He added that the department met with affected stakeholders several times and resolved concerns with all parties involved in the basin except the concerns of Water For Life.

“The conclusion ultimately that we have to find is if the water is for a beneficial use without waste, will it not injure existing water users and is it consistent with the laws that outline how a water right can be granted, including determining if it is in the public interest,” he said “We think this permit has met all of those tests.”

Sussman added that managing a wildlife refuge is far different than managing a farm or ranch.

“They have a complex water-management regime that is very unique to a wildlife refuge,” he said.

Sussman said the permit carries several conditions, including one that allows for additional storage to supersede the refuge’s ability to get water; a condition requiring the refuge to annually designate irrigated acreage; a requirement for the refuge to measure its water use; and a condition limiting the total volume of water that can be used under the right.

“They have a right to divert up to 820 cfs if it’s available,” Sussman said. “Lots of water rights go ‘up to’ a certain amount, but that amount of water may not be there every day.”

The USFWS applied for the permit in 1999.

Mitch Lies is based in Salem. His e-mail address is mlies@capitalpress.com.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved