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Water Rights

Water rights are required if property owners are interested in using water for other than domestic uses. There are surface, storage and ground water rights. Property owners are encouraged to search the Oregon Water Resource Department (OWRD) water rights information system database. If a property has water rights, documentation can be found here. If you currently have a permit, it is in your interest to work on acquiring a certificate. Watering a lawn larger than a ½ acre using ground water requires a water right.

Key Terms

  • Priority Date: Oregon water rights are based on seniority. The first person to obtain a water right is the last to be shut off.
  • Beneficial Use: The specific intended use of the water.
  • Diversion Point: The point where water is removed from a stream.
  • Appropriation Point: the point where groundwater is removed, i.e. a well.
  • Appurtenance: The area where water is allowed to be used.
  • Losing Water Rights: If you have a permit, water rights can be canceled for not continuing to “prove up”. A water right, once established, must be used beneficially at least once every five years (ORS 540.610), if not it is considered forfeited and is subject to cancellation.

Exempt Uses

Groundwater Exemptions

  • Single or group domestic purposes, not to exceed 15,000 gallons per day.
  • Industrial or commercial purposes not to exceed 5,000 gallons per day.
  • Stock watering.
  • Watering lawns or non-commercial gardens under 1/2 acre in area.

Surface Water Exemptions

  • Qualified reclaimed water uses
  • Qualifying stock water uses.
  • Emergency fire-fighting
  • Certain forest management activities.
  • Certain diversions promoting soil conservation.

Water Right Acquisition

  • Apply for a permit from the OWRD. Once a permit is issued, it allows the property owner to begin constructing a water system.
  • Construct the water system and use water based on permit conditions.
  • Hire a certified water right examiner (CWRE) to validate the water system.
  • If all conditions of the permit have been met, a certificate is issued.

Water Right Transfer

Water rights have very specific designations on where water can be used on your property, for what, the amount, when, and from where you can extract the water. Before changing any of these components, the water right holder needs to receive approval from the Oregon Water Resource The initial priority date on the water right will be maintaned after the transfer. There are multiple types of transfers available for water users: permanent, temporary, and in stream. For more information visit the OWRD website.

Ground Water Management Area

These areas are defined by the OWRD to prevent excessive declines in groundwater. There are currently three GW Limited Areas and one GW Withdrawn area in Marion County. GW Limited Areas do allow new water rights, but are restricted to a few designated uses. Check with OWRD for a complete list of possible uses. After September 2001 the OWRD put a moratorium on drilling new wells within the GW Withdrawn Area. Residents can, however, conduct maintenance on existing legal wells that are impaired.

Water Storage

Constructing a pond or reservoir of any size to store water requires a permit from the OWRD. A secondary water use permit is required to use or divert the water that is being stored. Water storage is generally allowed from November through June.

Reservoirs with a dam height of 10 feet or greater and that store 9.2 acre-feet or more of water require engineering plans and specifications that must be approved by the OWRD prior to the construction of the reservoir. There is an expedited permitting process for individuals building reservoirs with a height of less than 10 feet and that store less than 9.2 acre-feet of water. Marion County and other state and federal agencies require permits as well.

Rain Water Harvesting

Marion County property owners may collect and use rain water from impervious surfaces on their property without a permit. But, if you install an above grade tank of 5,000 gallons or more, a building permit is required. When developing a rainwater harvesting system, you should first establish the amount of water available and your water needs. The size of the cistern needed will depend on the amount of water you want to collect and what you want to do with that water during a specific time frame. Different activities require different amounts of water. Crop irrigation requires roughly 2 – 2½ acre feet of water per acre during the June to September growing season. The rainwater catchment formula will help define how much water is available for collection from a roof. Contact the Marion SWCD and local government agencies for assistance and possible grants.

Rainwater Catchment Formula

Roof Area (square feet) x Annual Rainfall (inches) x .46 = Gallons of Water per Year

Contact Us

We can help you find answers to your water rights questions.

Becky and her family at fair with sheep.
Becky Pineda
Agriculture Conservation Planner - Pasture & Livestock
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