The rights of rain

Posted in: Water


Rainy day droplets in a puddleWhile participating in a seminar on Oregon Water Laws and Regulations, I was struck by the ebb and flow of the laws and regulations. They behave just as the natural water systems behave. The complexity and interconnectivity of the various regulations are not easily navigated.

Rights to use surface and groundwater

In Oregon, and much of the western U.S., water law is based on prior appropriation, which was established over a century ago to stimulate mining and irrigated agriculture. Right to use surface and ground water are granted by the Oregon Water Resources Department based on beneficial use of water and allocated in order of the date the right was established. Initially uses applied to diverted flows but instream flows are now considered a beneficial use and non-consumptive rights granted to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Water rights and stormwater

How does stormwater factor in to water rights? Under Water Rights Laws, use of stormwater collected off of built impervious surfaces in generally considered exempt from water rights.  Yet stormwater runoff can impact water quantity and quality of surface and ground waters.  Stormwater that discharges to surface waters is regulated under the Clean Water Act and discharges to ground water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Balancing needs for the whole system

These various regulations can present challenges in balancing the needs of a system as a whole. In 2012, an Integrated Water Resources Strategy was adopted in Oregon to develop a state-wide strategy integrating the goals and objectives related to water quantity, water quality, and ecosystem function. The initiative was led by the OWRD working closely with ODEQ and ODFW. The strategy presents actions to improving, modernizing and expanding Oregon’s foundation of data and programs with a long-term overview of next steps for these state agencies.  Implementation will be closely observed just as the natural processes that drive the legislation.


Kari Nichols, PE

About the Author

If a raindrop falls on the project, Kari Nichols, P.E., gets involved to find a stormwater management solution. “I believe in dedication and follow-through,” she says. “Deciphering regulatory language and developing workable design solutions helps me connect with clients and colleagues.” Kari has a taste for adventure and a passion for sustainability, which she satisfies by exploring natural and urban environments.

Read more posts by Kari Nichols, PE

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