KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Many of those who spoke about rules being proposed by Oregon Water Resources Department were opposed at least in part to changes that could impact the next two irrigation seasons in the Klamath Basin.

About 25 individuals braved inclement weather to attend the public session hosted by OWRD staff from Klamath Falls and Salem at Oregon Tech on Feb. 25. The session is one of two recent meetings being used to compile comments on proposed new rules impacting groundwater wells in the Klamath Basin.

Written comments on the proposed Oregon Administrative Rules were accepted through Monday.

The Oregon Water Commission will meet in mid-April, either in person, or telephonically to consider action on the rules.

A number of attendees at the meeting traveled from Bly and Sprague River for the meeting, and spoke out against at least some portion of the proposed rules, with some speaking in favor.

In opposition

Nathan Jackson spoke against the rule on behalf of Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, which is a member of the Rules Advisory Committee for the Oregon Water Resources Department Proposed Temporary Division 25 Rulemaking.

Jackson stated the association believes that the rules could set a precedent for how rules are handled in the future, specifically in terms of challenging OWRD’s groundwater regulations.

“The rules make expansive generalizations about groundwater and surface water hydraulic connection in the Klamath Basin and the alleged effects of wells on spring and surface water flows,” Jackson read from a statement. “OWRD’s proposed definitions, findings, and conclusions cited above are unnecessary to OWRD’s regulation of wells within close proximity to surface water sources when a valid call for water is made by a senior surface water user. The definitions, findings, and conclusions if adopted may provide support for OWRD’s support of future rules governing the regulation of Upper Klamath Basin groundwater users, allowing OWRD to claim deference from courts and avoid legal challenges to the science and methodology used by OWRD to shut off irrigation wells, causing severe and permanent affects on the agricultural community.”

Scientific support

Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is supportive of regulatory relief for wells greater than 500 feet, according to Jackson, but cannot support the rules as proposed without desired scientific support that individual wells reduce surface water flows otherwise be available to senior surface water users prior to regulating off such wells.

“Conjunctive water management cannot be one size fits all for groundwater users within groundwater basin,” Jackson said.

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry also spoke in opposition to the proposed rules, stating concerns that the rule would limit flows to adjudicated senior water right claims for the benefit of junior water right holders.

Over allocation

“Groundwater resources of the Upper Klamath Basin are a significant source of flows for streams and rivers,” Gentry wrote in a statement. “Instream claims for the streams and rivers of the Upper Klamath Basin are for the benefit of treaty resources in which many groups and individuals are beneficiaries. The majority of the streams and rivers are spring fed or groundwater is the source. Further depletion of groundwater will impact surface flows by over allocating available water resources. Over allocation will result in negative impacts to treaty resources and ultimately numerous groups and individuals including adjudicated surface water users.

“Being the most senior water user, it’s very important to make sure that in these interim rules, any revision of the rules that are for the county protect our rights and any other senior right holder appropriately,” Gentry added, noted he doesn’t believe the rule as proposed protect the tribes’ senior adjudicated water right claims.

Finding solutions

Dairy irrigator Del Fox also disagreed with the rules, and promoted the idea of collaboration.

“Let’s solve the problem,” Fox said. “We can work with the tribes, we can work with the other water users … we can work with the fish and wildlife environmentalists, which I’m one of them. We need to talk and discuss. We don’t need more rules. What we need is good discussion.”

Hollie Cannon, representing the Wood River Improvement District, shared some support for the rules due to their interim basis.

“This temporary (interim) rule gives the chance to irrigate for two years while the permanent rules are worked out,” Cannon said. “I don’t agree with everything that the rule says …. There’s a big fight coming over what the permanent rule’s going to be. But at least the temporary (rule) gets us through that period.”

The meeting finished up just as Oregon Tech’s campus closed for the day due to snowy conditions.

‘Mixed bag’

Administrator of the field services division of OWRD Ivan Gall, who attended the last portion of the meeting after traveling from Salem, said the feedback to him on the rules following the meeting was a “mixed bag,” and that staff would start reviewing all the comments next week.

“These are interim rules that’ll be good for over two years, certainly the next two irrigation seasons,” Gall told the Herald and News after speaking with water users following the meeting.

“The path to get here was largely a result of … as we’ve regulated wells here, there’s been a lot of disagreement by the water user community as to how we regulate, the underlying science of hydrologic connection and depletion, is in question by the water users. And then there’s a question of our authority to be able to regulate the wells to protect the surface water rights,” Gall said. “We thought it was an appropriate step to take to see if there’s interest in the community to basically take a step back from the heavy regulation that occurred last year in Division 9 rules and look at different alternatives, come down here, listen to water users and see if they have ideas on water management that are still going to be protective of the senior water rights.”

Those interested in submitting public comments can send them to OWRD, 725 Summer St., N.E. Ste. A, Salem, OR 97301-1271, fax to 503-986-0903 or email comments to Racquel Rancier at raquel.r.rancier@oregon.gov.

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