Brookings settles Chetco water-rights suit

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer July 11, 2012 10:17 am

 

The Brookings City Council has settled a water-rights issue that’s been wending its way through the courts since 2003.

The settlement agreement  – initiated in the courts by WaterWatch of Oregon and the Oregon Water Resources Department – means the city will have permanent rights to 1.57 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water in the Chetco River for municipal use.

 

The agreement specifies that the city will have permanent rights to 5.57 cfs and voluntarily cancel an undeveloped permit for 8.43 cfs. It also gets to retain its permanent right to 6.0 cfs from an old water source.

Those water rights – totalling 11.57 cfs – will meet the city’s projected needs for at least 20 years.

The issue came to the attention of WaterWatch, an organization that protects water flows in Oregon waterways, in April 2003 when the city requested an extension to 2049 a water right it had yet to use.

The city had an intake that would have allowed the city to draw water from the river as the town grew. Because growth has been slow, the city has never developed that right – essentially, used the water –  but has held onto the right for the potential need in the future.

One cubic foot per second is equal to 1.98 acre feet of water; an acre foot is equal to 325,851 gallons, or enough to cover an acre of land to the depth of 1 foot.

Tuesday, the Chetco River was flowing at about 180 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.

The city’s 2008 Water Master Plan Update indicates the city needs 4.25 cfs through 2012, 7.76 cfs in 2032 and 16.06 cfs in 2057 – based on a 3 percent annual growth rate.

Growth, however, has not increased – but declined – since 2008. The city’s average water use last year was 1.37 cfs.

 Oregon law requires municipal water suppliers to obtain water rights from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD). 

The first step is to obtain a water right permit that serves as the initial authorization to develop the source. The second stage is obtaining a final certificate, which is issued after the water use has been developed.

The permit, however, has a deadline of five years, although extensions have, until recent decades, been routinely granted.

It became common practice for cities to obtain water permits and then request multiple extensions to plan for future growth.

Other laws were changed over the years as more data regarding inflow streams and fish estuary health was established.

Most council members weren’t on the board when the issue reared its head, yet Brent Hodges and Dave Gordon both expressed relief that it is over.

“It has been a lengthy process through the department of water rights, and an even longer administrative process to bring this to a resolution,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “This agreement represents a good compromise that will guarantee the city will have a long-term source of water while protecting the water resource.”

The  city council Monday gave Milliman approval to sign the agreement.

“I’m glad to see this thing finally come together,” Hodges added.