Congratulations and thank you to Water Watch: An Administrative Law Judge has proposed that the state deny a water right permit application that would allow a private company to profit through speculation on one of the public’s most valuable resources – water in one of the state’s most iconic waterways, the McKenzie River. The application, submitted by the Willamette Water Company, proposes to lock up a large amount of McKenzie River water, but fails to identify any committed customers, fails to show plans for necessary water infrastructure, and lacks the needed land use approvals for developing the water project. The Company has also challenged the fish protection conditions recommended by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and proposed by the Oregon Water Resources Department.
WaterWatch protested the permit application on March 12, 2010, on grounds that it did not conform to state requirements and that the applicant showed no need for the water. The judge, Jim Han, stated in the April 27, 2012 order that the “[a]pplication proposes a speculative use for more water than the Company could establish it could put to actual beneficial use” as required by law. He found that granting the permit would impair or be detrimental to the public interest and that the permit application should be denied.
The harmful proposal to take 34 cubic feet per second (22 million gallons per day) out of the McKenzie River faces one last hurdle, as the Water Resources Department still has final say over whether to grant the permit.
“We are very pleased with the ruling which found that Willamette Water Company’s attempt to lock up a huge amount of water for later sale was speculative and illegal under Oregon law,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “The Oregon Water Resources Department still has the authority to issue the Final Order and we hope they will follow the ruling and deny this water grab.”
The proposed water grab threatens a river prized by fishermen, boaters, and nature enthusiasts from around the world. The McKenzie’s renowned beauty, along with the fish and wildlife it supports, in turn help sustain jobs and economic activity in the region.
“This is great news for the McKenzie River and the fish and communities that depend on the river,” said Lisa Brown, staff attorney at WaterWatch. “In Oregon, by law, all the water belongs to the public and water rights can only be issued for legitimate, bona fide uses. We argued that this application doesn’t qualify, and the judge agreed.
“Willamette Water Company’s proposal is speculative and should not be allowed. Oregon Water Resources Department should not have proposed issuance of this permit in the first place, and should now deny the permit,” concluded DeVoe.