Why do I need water rights for irrigation?

Why do I need water rights for irrigation?
BY Oregon State University Extension Office

Many new and beginning farmers as well as long-time land managers are unaware that a legal right is needed to use surface water and groundwater for irrigation of any crops that intended for sale. This includes small-scale production for a farmer’s market or CSA.

There are many demands on Oregon’s water resources, which are publicly owned. Even though water, a stream for example runs through your property, it doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to everyone in Oregon. The same is true with groundwater in aquifers deep in the soil. You may have access to a domestic well but that is intended for home use and a few other exemptions, such as a personal home garden and livestock watering.

If you do not have a permitted irrigation well or designated water rights from surface water, here are ways to legally obtain water for commercial irrigation:

  1. Capture rainwater from an artificial impervious surface (roof), store it in tanks and use it when needed. Exempt under ORS 537.141
  2. Haul water in from a legal municipal source, store it in tanks and use it when needed. No water right required.
  3. Apply for a new Groundwater Permit
  4. Apply for a right to store water in a pond and then a secondary water right to use the stored water for irrigation
  5. File a Transfer application
  1. to move an existing water right to a new property.

The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) regulates water law, including water rights. We recommend contacting your local OWRD Watermaster

if you have specific questions.

In addition, you can access these resources to learn more:

Identify Water Rights and other information in your area using the Water Right Mapping ToolIf you do not have access to irrigation water you can learn more about OSU’s Dry Farming Project.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.