URGENT: Take Action To Protect Oregon Aquifers and Waterways

May 17, 2024

Commercial groundwater use is depleting Oregon’s aquifers and interconnected surface water. As groundwater levels fall, household wells are going dry, and rivers have less water to support fish and water-dependent ecosystems. For Oregon’s Indigenous people, inadequate water for ecosystems means inadequate traditional food such as salmon, steelhead and wocus. Limited access to healthy traditional foods is causing health problems and economic insecurity among Indigenous communities throughout Oregon.    

After decades of inaction, the Oregon Water Resources Department is now developing rules to restrict commercial groundwater use. Members of the Oregon Water Justice Alliance support this process, however, it is being co-opted by powerful agricultural interests that use the largest share of our groundwater.

Please join us today in being a voice for more sustainable and just groundwater management.

The proposed rules are more than bureaucratic formalities. The strength of these administrative rules is crucial for the sustainability of Oregon’s precious water resources. Interconnected aquifers and surface waters demand a cohesive approach to management – one that gives ecosystems and Tribal water rights their just due. For far too long, irrigators have been overdrawing from both surface and groundwater, dewatering and draining both. They are not giving up their virtual monopoly on our waters easily.

As the rulemaking process unfolds, your advocacy for stringent, justice-oriented water management practices is crucial. Please join us by submitting a comment to the Oregon Water Resources Department demanding that the regulations developed are strong enough to curb unsustainable groundwater pumping and protect our public trust waters.

This obscure regulatory process is critical for ensuring that our aquatic ecosystems can sustain native wildlife and future generations of Oregonians and fulfill obligations to Native American Tribes.

The strength of community action can drive meaningful change. The Oregon Water Resources Department and its governing body, the Oregon Water Resources Commission, are starting to move in a better direction, but they need to hear from water advocates to withstand the pressures of the irrigation lobby. Please join us and make your voice heard by submitting a public comment

It takes only a few minutes, but your input has the potential to influence decades of water policy in Oregon. Together, we can ensure that Oregon’s water laws reflect our shared values of conservation and justice.

Suggested draft submission to the Oregon Water Resources Department for supporters:

I write today to encourage your efforts to protect our public trust waters with reasonable and just water allocation rules to protect our dwindling groundwater resources. The groundwater rulemaking process must do more to address our growing water allocation crisis.

I call upon you to:

Implement strong groundwater rules is needed to: a) Curb excessive use/waste, by the agricultural industry, which accounts for 78% of all water that humans use in Oregon; b) Protect Oregon’s rapidly depleting aquifers AND interconnected surface waters from permanent damage; and c) Plan for climate change-driven drought and less reliable water supplies.

Acknowledge hydrologic connections in the water cycle – between groundwater and streams – and use the Public Trust Doctrine to stop draining our aquifers. The Public Trust Doctrine requires you to hold water in trust for the future. Use it!

Implement minimum stream flow requirements as required by the Endangered Species Act and the Public Trust Doctrine, which, respectively, protect fish and humans. Oregon used to have minimum stream flows, but in 1987 they were replaced by an Orwellian process that gives ecosystems junior water rights to their own water! Now, in the summer when minimum stream flows are most needed, senior irrigation water right holders trump those junior in-stream rights and over-pump our streams. Instream flows must be treated as reserved water rights that are not subject to diversion. 

Protect water for critical human needs including domestic uses, Tribal fishing practices, small-scale local food production, and municipalities from rampant non-beneficial uses of water by industrial agriculture, which accounts for the majority of Oregon’s water use. 80% of all agricultural products in Oregon are exported out of state – that’s a lot of our water leaving the state – some of it permanently! The idea that whoever got in line first could use water for personal gain at the expense of the greater public interest is an inequitable and unjust vestige of the Wild West that harms ecosystems and river-dependent communities.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I hope you take my concerns seriously and begin doing more to uphold and enforce the laws that are designed to protect our environment, public trust waters, and our descendants.

Make your voice heard by submitting a comment to the Oregon Water Resources Department today!

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