This summer I worked for WaterWatch of Oregon, which is a nonprofit law office protecting Oregon’s streamflows. This is no small task in Oregon and its surrounding states.
While there definite arguments over the available ground waters of the state (which WaterWatch also strives to protect) the golden tickets are stream water permits. Apparently Oregon’s water supply ISN’T limitless. However, water rights continue to be applied for, and granted, all the time. These permits are overseen by the Oregon Water Resources Division, an Oregon Agency, and are subject to a notice and comment period. This is where WaterWatch comes in.
The attorneys at WaterWatch review all new water permit applications, asses the water availability and potential impacts of the permits appropriation, and then submit protests if it appears the permits water allocation would be in violation of Oregon’s water laws. If the permit is approved despite WaterWatch’s comments they may sue to prevent the granting of the applied for water right.
Additionally, WaterWatch, while not a strict dam removal group, has fought to remove certain dams from streams and rivers that are in critical condition. WaterWatch is also involved in educating the public, fighting for a statewide water conservation/management plan, and drafting/supporting proposed legislation which would reform Oregon’s antiquated water laws.
Having little knowledge of how western water laws method of “prior appropriation” worked, or what limits were placed on the system, I was shocked by what I saw while working there. My first two weeks were spent mostly cramming loads of background water law information, and then I was introduced to the actual state of the system.
My time at WaterWatch was not spent researching obscure laws and then writing up memos or briefs. Instead, I spent most of the summer researching water policy, as it pertains to the western United States. I was able to be involved in the review of potential draft legislation for the 2009 Oregon congressional session. The drafting process was particularly interesting; I had no idea how much work goes into getting a bill passed. I was also able to participate in the review and comment on the Bradwood LNG plant’s water permit application. Finally, I performed background research into potential water permit over-appropriations (violations).
I came away from my experience at WaterWatch with a renewed belief in the importance of public service. Without organization like WaterWatch the world would be a different, and in my opinion a scarier, place to live.
The PILP program gives amazing opportunities to a lucky few. I recommend taking advantage of the opportunity it presents.