Victory for McKenzie River as Judge Rules Against Water Speculators

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.

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6 Responses to Victory for McKenzie River as Judge Rules Against Water Speculators

  1. Rob R says:

    Bravo, Waterwatch, and to all the local voices that contributed to this effort!!!!!!!!

  2. Rich Youngers says:



  3. moon says:

    To all who put in the time i would like to say – “Thank You very much”.

  4. Paul Grycko says:

    Now thats some great news for all of us that love the McKenzie! Great job Water Watch.

  5. David Jensen says:

    Yes, congratulations to Lisa Brown and Water Watch, and thanks to both! I shared with Lisa some history about litigating against McDougal Bros., Demers’ father in law, regarding the McKenzie. To be a little more detailed than the post, the final word is not the Oregon Water Resources Department, but the Oregon Court of Appeals, and perhaps the Oregon Supreme Court. If Demers appeals to the courts, it is expensive for Water Watch. While it has Lisa as a staff attorney, there still are significant costs it will incur in transcript, printing, and other costs. Demers’ position is not only that he can obtain the water right, but that it is not subject to ODFW minimal stream flow levels! We have to help Water Watch stop this, so write a check for $25 or more today, and send to the site appearing in the first sentence of Matt’s post tonight.

  6. Ryland Moore says:

    Excellent work John and Company. If you can’t show proof of beneficial use for the full rate and duty in a timely manner, then you should not be issued a permit. Who do they think they are? A municipality seeking inchoate water rights? I am surprised that there is that much water available in the McKenzie to appropriate and that ODFW instream water rights would not trump this permit to begin with but I have not looked at the OWRD water availability modeling specifically. Seasonal use?

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