Water Resources Department Records Guide
Agency History - Current Organization
To implement the broader goals of laws related to water, the Water Resources Commission sets statewide water policy through Oregon Administrative Rules. It also determines the use of unallocated water through the creation or amendment of programs for the 18 river basins in Oregon. The commission consists of a seven-member board that oversees the actions of the Water Resources Department. The governor appoints one member from each of five regions to terms of four years. In addition, one member each is appointed at large from either side of the Cascade Mountains. The Oregon Senate holds the authority to confirm members. During the regular sessions of the Legislative Assembly, the commission meets in Salem to better coordinate activities with lawmakers. Otherwise, meetings are held throughout the state to give citizens more opportunity for involvement and to keep commission members in touch with local issues.
The director of the Water Resources Department executes the policies of the commission, enforces water laws, and oversees the administrative responsibilities of the agency. The director is appointed by the governor to four-year terms and is confirmed by the Oregon Senate.
As of 2002 the Water Resources Department was organized into five divisions:
Field and Technical Services
Water Rights and Adjudications
The department headquarters and the Northwest Region offices are in Salem. Additionally, the department operates four other regional offices:
Southwest Region-Grants Pass
South Central Region-Bend
North Central Region-Pendleton
Eastern Region-Baker City
The department is further represented by 19 watermaster districts located around the state, with offices often located in or near county courthouses. Watermasters enforce water laws and measure water levels at various locations in their districts.
Functionally, the department employs a wide range of experts from numerous disciplines such as hydrology, engineering, geology and planning. Water Resources Department employees document water levels at hundreds of gaging stations. They work to design long-range water plans for Oregon basins by mapping and studying underground aquifers. And they assist local governments and citizen groups by providing information and technical assistance.
Water Law and Policy
The commission sets and the department executes statewide general policies and more specific rules for most of Oregon's 18 river basins. The statewide policies include:
protecting existing water rights.
allowing water uses only for beneficial purposes without waste.
improving the efficiency of water use.
allocating water only within the capacity of the resource to prevent over-appropriation.
recognizing water storage as an integral part of Oregon's water supply strategy.
protecting streamflows needed to support public uses.
encouraging the protection of water-related riparian functions.
managing groundwater to promote sustainable multiple uses.
allowing new hydroelectric power development only when there will be no harm to the state's salmon and steelhead or no net loss to the state's natural resources.
Field and Technical Services Division
The Field and Technical Services Division is the largest organizational unit within the department and includes management of the regional offices and watermaster districts. Among other areas of responsibility, the division provides information services, dam safety inspection and enforcement, water availability analysis, well construction inspection and enforcement, ground water hydrology, and water right transfers.
Watermasters use water rights priorities based in laws and rules to distribute water. They watch for diversions or appropriation of water without required permits. When streamflows lower in the summer, watermasters monitor both the supply and use of water in their area. They also answer complaints from users and reduce or shut off water as needed to maintain the water rights of senior users.
Water Rights and Adjudications Division
The process of rationally determining water rights continues nearly a century after the original legislation. The Water Rights and Adjudications Division accepts applications for new water use and issues water right permits, certificates, and limited licenses. The division organizes and processes adjudications of pre-1909 water right claims and it maintains the records of existing water rights in Oregon. It also coordinates the relicensing of hydroelectric projects. Currently, the department is adjudicating water rights in the Klamath Basin. This complex work is conducted with a backdrop of chronic drought and public protest related to the difficulty of balancing natural resource needs with economic and social needs.
Resource Management Division
Technical and planning services are provided by the Resource Management Division. Its experts assist in many of the scientific aspects and review of water management and conservation plans. The division coordinates with a variety of agencies, groups, and the public in relation to water planning activities. It also coordinates instream leases and reservations of water. Moreover, the division assists with water supply and water basin planning.
Administrative Services Division
The Water Resources Department facilitative and support functions are conducted by the Administrative Services Division. It provides services related to fiscal management, training, personnel, clerical, copying, and mailroom functions as well as the Water Development Loan Program. This program is responsible for overseeing the Water Development Loan Fund, which provides money to finance irrigation, drainage, community water supply, fish protection, and watershed enhancement projects.
Coordination of legislation, policy, and public information is provided by the director's office. The director makes plans, establishes policies and programs, and oversees special projects to carry out the mission of the department. The focus of a majority of the director's efforts is on relationships that are external to the Water Resources Department, including working with the Oregon Attorney General's Office on lawsuits and court cases involving the department. The director is the department's liaison with the governor and Legislative Assembly, and with other agencies on the local, state, and federal level. The director is a member of the Western States Water Council, an inter-governmental water resource planning body that facilitates the management of rivers and streams that flow through or between more than one state.
The deputy director focuses primarily on the day-to-day functions of the department. The hearings program within the office investigates, holds hearings, and issues special orders for the department on many issues including disputes over water rights, fines, and water management plans. The director's office also prepares administrative rules for filing with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.
Note: Current Water Resources Department programs and records are described in a records retention schedule produced by the Oregon State Archives.