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Comment period for Basin groundwater rules extended (to March 2).
An additional rulemaking hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 18
  By LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 1/17/15

(Groundwater Rules Meeting 1/16/15)

     The comment period for proposed upper Basin groundwater rules has been extended to March.

   At two Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) groundwater rules hearings this week, Doug Woodcock, administrator of the OWRD field science division, said the rulemaking notice incorrectly described the off-project area as the Wood, Williamson and Sprague River drainages.

   Woodcock pointed out that the notice should have said the Wood River Valley instead of drainage because Sevenmile Creek does not drain into the Wood River.

   To ensure everyone has an opportunity to comment, the comment period has been extended until March 2, Woodcock said.

   “To be clear, there is no change in the draft rules, just a clarification in the rulemaking notice,” Woodcock said.   An additional rulemaking hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 18. Only three people offered testimony at the hearings this week: KIamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry and Tribes council member Anna Bennett spoke in favor of the rules.

   Tribes’ position

   “It’s our position that adoption is essential to provide for appropriate and balanced regulation of the groundwater,” Gentry said.

Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams, who is also an upper Basin irrigator, said he did not support the proposed rules. “I think this is very shortsighted in agreeing to this,” Mallams said.

Although the OWRD already   has rules governing ground and surface water, to comply with conditions of the recently signed Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, new rules for the Sprague and Williamson drainages and the Wood River Valley must be developed.

   In October, a group of stakeholders joined the OWRD to form a rules advisory committee tasked with developing the draft groundwater rules for off-project landowners.

   Jerry Grondin, an OWRD hydrogeologist, said the rules are designed to give upper Basin landowners more certainty about how the OWRD would regulate groundwater. They are also designed to reinforce the agreement’s conditions requiring increased streamflows into   Upper Klamath Lake.

   The upper Basin settlement was signed by federal and state officials, the Klamath Tribes and other stakeholders in April 2014.

   It was later combined with two other pacts to create the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act. The settlement package requires congressional approval and the president’s signature before it can be put into law.

   According to Grondin, if the agreements fail to pass, groundwater regulation will return to OWRD standard Division 9 rules which, according to adjudication water law, can regulate any well within 1 mile of a stream.  

   Adjudication regulation

   OWRD adjudication regulation, implemented for the first time in 2013, provides surface water rights based on priority date of property claims. The older the claim date, the more senior the water right — junior water users’ irrigation supply can be shut off if a senior water right makes a claim to that water.

   According to Woodcock, the proposed rules have changed little since the first draft was released in November. Most of the revisions have only refined the rules’ language — most of the concepts remain the same, he said.

   Sprague River Rancher, Phil Blankenship said although it’s likely his water will get shut off under these new regulations, he supports the rules. Blankenship said his 173-acre ranch has a fairly junior water right.

   “They are trying to accommodate ... My personal opinion is I feel it’s fair,” he said.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  
  H&N photo by Lacey Jarrell

   Karl Wozniak, a hydrologist for the Oregon Water Resources Department, explains to upper Basin landowner Phil Blankenship how the proposed groundwater regulations could impact surface water.




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