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Oregon will soon have a new tool to stop water violations

Oregon Water Resources Department watermaster at scene of water violation June 29, 2023.
via Jackson County Sheriff's Office
Oregon Water Resources Department watermaster at scene of water violation in Jackson County on June 29, 2023.

Oregon lawmakers recently approved legislation allowing the state’s water resources department to pursue immediate court relief over water use violations that cause irreparable harm.

Currently, consequences for misuse of water can take months to go into effect.

“In the meantime, the perpetrator would just continue to misuse water,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who drafted and sponsored the bill. “And we understand that water is our most precious resource, so that was really just not an acceptable outcome.”

With the passage of House Bill 2929, the Oregon Water Resources Department will be able to halt illegal water use much sooner. Marsh said this is an important tool for the fair distribution of a finite resource.

“We believe that in this day and age, when drought is our constant companion, that we should never have a situation in which someone’s allowed to keep misusing water,” Marsh said.

Violations include the use or storage of water without a right, interference with a headgate, unlawful use of groundwater and willful waste. If a person is committing water violations, the state water department will be able to apply to a county circuit court for an injunction. This would require the person to stop the activity and remedy the violation.

The bill is awaiting Gov. Kotek’s signature.

Ella Hutcherson was a 2023 Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism Intern at JPR after she graduated from the University of Oregon. She grew up in Coos Bay, Oregon and now produces freelance stories for JPR. Previously, Ella worked as education reporter for the Eugene Weekly and she was the managing editor of the UO student-run Ethos Magazine.