SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s water regulators exceeded their authority when they shut off wells within 500 feet of waterways in the Upper Klamath Basin last year, a judge has ruled.
Marion County Circuit Judge Claudia Burton also ruled the Oregon Water Resources Department violated the due process rights of irrigators Troy and Tracy Brooks, who filed a lawsuit opposing the agency’s enforcement action.
“They basically came up with these rules and gave nobody due process,” Dominic Carollo, lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Capital Press.
It’s likely the ruling will set a precedent preventing the agency from taking the same approach to stop groundwater pumping — not only in the Upper Klamath Basin, but elsewhere in Oregon where the agency says wells are interfering with surface waters, he said.
Racquel Rancier, Oregon Water Resources Department’s senior policy coordinator, said the agency plans to take another regulatory tack in the region.
“This ruling suggests to the department that a critical groundwater designation is necessary in order to manage groundwater for senior surface water rights within the Klamath Basin,” Rancier said in an email.
In that process, the plaintiffs would be provided with a contested case hearing during which they could challenge the agency’s determination.
The controversy relates the agency’s finding in 2013 that Klamath Tribes hold the oldest “time immemorial” water rights in the area, which allows them to request water be shut off to junior irrigators.
In 2018, the agency established a rule that wells within one mile of a waterway in the Upper Klamath Basin will substantially interfere with surface waters and thus can be regulated off at the tribes’ request.
That regulation was scaled back last year to wells within 500 feet of a waterway.