WaterWatch wins in Oregon Supreme Court
The Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled in WaterWatch’s favor in an important case about when an unused hydroelectric water right must be converted to a permanent instream water right for the benefit of public uses, such as fish, wildlife, and recreation.
On a tributary to the Powder River in Eastern Oregon, the Rock Creek Power Plant diverted water for nearly 100 years to generate electricity. Then, in 1995, it shut down after deciding it could no longer operate profitably.
Oregon law says hydroelectric water rights must be converted to instream water rights “five years after the use of water under [the] hydroelectric water right ceases.” The owner of the water right on Rock Creek tried to dodge that requirement by occasionally “leasing” the right for shortterm instream use and claiming use “under” the hydroelectric right therefore never ceased. Another company then purchased the right and proposed to use it for a new hydroelectric plant.
The Water Resources Department was prepared to go along, so WaterWatch went to court. The lower courts agreed with the Department, but the Oregon Supreme Court agreed with WaterWatch and directed the Department to begin the process to convert the water right to an instream right. WaterWatch is now monitoring that process to ensure the hydroelectric right is converted to an instream water right.
Legislature approves $25.6 million drought package for Oregon rivers and freshwater habitat
WaterWatch and conservation partners developed a first-of-its-type $25.6 million drought resiliency package approved in February by the Oregon Legislature.
The package will help buffer effects of climate change and associated drought – benefitting rivers, wetlands and aquatic ecosystems.
THE PACKAGE PROVIDES STATE AGENCIES:
• $2.6 million for mapping cold water refugia, installing real-time temperature and streamflow gages, and securing instream water rights for streamflows;
• $8 million for fish passage barrier removal;
• $10 million for voluntary water right acquisitions to restore water instream;
• $5 million for aquatic habitats restoration projects.
This is a great step forward. However, additional drought resiliency measures are needed if we want healthy freshwater habitat in a climate changed world.
STATE ACTION IS NEEDED TO:
• protect minimum survival streamflows for fish during drought;
• use existing state drought tools to mandate water conservation measures for cities and agriculture;
• require real-time measurement and reporting of water use;
• set basin-specific efficiency standards to help ensure sustainable agriculture in a warming climate;
• enforce against illegal or wasteful water use;
• sustainably manage Oregon's groundwater resources.
As Oregon faces increasing incidents of drought, these and other measures are critical to ensuring protection and restoration of freshwater habitat, including cold water habitat, into the future.
Oregon’s imperiled Lake Abert finally gets state’s attention
Years of hard work by WaterWatch and conservation allies have created positive momentum for Oregon’s internationally significant Lake Abert. This spectacular Southeastern Oregon lake is second only to the Great Salt Lake in importance for migratory shorebirds in the Great Basin.
Used historically by more than 80 species of shorebirds and waterbirds, it’s particularly important to Wilson’s Phalaropes, American Avocets, North American Eared Grebes, and Snowy Plovers. But when deprived of necessary freshwater inflows from the Chewaucan River, increased salinity levels cause food relied upon by the birds to disappear. Water conditions are so dire that Lake Abert has gone dry twice in the last eight years.
Following in-depth reporting by The Oregonian detailing the state’s failure to address the lake’s plight, WaterWatch and six other conservation organizations requested that Governor Kate Brown and key agencies immediately start implementing 12 needed actions. The state has now committed to working towards a solution for the lake.
We are optimistic that monitoring – foundational for understanding and conserving the lake – will soon be implemented. We know that finding solutions won’t be easy, but we’re committed to working with others to ensure that current momentum is translated into action to preserve this amazing lake.