Water Rights

Under Oregon law, all water is publicly owned. Landowners with water flowing past, through or under their property do not automatically have the right to use that water without a permit from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD). With some exceptions, cities, farmers, factory owners and other users must obtain a permit or water right from OWRD to use water from any source – whether it is from an underground or aboveground source. Water rights are required if property owners are interested in using surface or groundwater for non-domestic uses. A water right is required to irrigate more than a half acre. Most ponds require a water right to store water and a water right is also required to use the water stored in the pond. If you don’t use your water right within five years, you could lose it. Property owners are encouraged to research their water rights by contacting OWRD

  • Ground Water Exempt Uses

    Stock watering. Irrigation of less than ½ acre of noncommercial lawn or garden. Single or group domestic use of less than 15,000 gallons per day. Single commercial or industrial use of less than 5,000 gallons per day. 

  • Surface Water Exempt Uses

    Qualified reclaimed water uses. Qualified stock water uses. Emergency fire-fighting. Certain forest management activities. Certain diversions that promote soil conservation.

  • How to Obtain a Water Right

    Water rights are obtained in a three-step process. 

    1. Apply to OWRD for a water use permit.
    2. Once a permit is granted, construct a water system and begin water use. 
    3. Hire a certified water right examiner to complete a survey, submit a map, and file a report to OWRD. A water right certificate will be issued if water has been used according to the provisions of the permit. 

    Apply to OWRD

Domestic Water Use

Conserving water at home can save energy, extend the life of septic systems, maintain water levels in groundwater and stream water. Conserving water also means reduced costs to city dwellers. By applying several conservation measures in your home, you can reduce single family water use from 72.5 gallons per capita per day to 49.6 gallons per capita per day, a 32% reduction in water use. Calculate your water footprint and discover ways to reduce it!

Water Storage

Construction of any size pond or reservoir to store water requires a permit from OWRD. A secondary water use permit is required to use or divert the water that is being stored. Water storage is generally allowed from November through June. Reservoirs with a dam height of 10 feet or greater and that store at least 9.2 acre-feet of water require engineering plans and specifications that must be approved by OWRD prior to the construction of the reservoir. There is an expedited permitting process for individuals building reservoirs with a height of less than 10 feet and that store less than 9.2 acre-feet of water. Contact Benton SWCD for help.

  • Ponds

    Ponds provide important habitat for turtles, frogs and many other species. However, warm pond water can impair downstream water quality and aquatic life if the pond is connected to a waterway. Furthermore, ponds can be a liability. Check your insurance coverage to assess the risk. 

  • Pond Construction

    Contact Benton SWCD to find sources of technical and financial assistance for pond construction. Remember to add the time and cost of proper pond maintenance to your budget. Once you have determined the pond purpose and type, you’ll need to evaluate the land for a suitable pond site and investigate the need for permits. Keep a record of the design and construction process. Pond Maintenance Ponds require a great deal of maintenance. Control structures must be maintained. Dikes should be kept clear of livestock and vegetation. Check the state noxious weed list or contact Benton SWCD Invasives Program before planting aquatic species. Aquatic invasive plants and fish alter aquatic ecosystems, outcompete native plants, disrupt native fish and wildlife habitat, interfere with recreational activities and decrease water quality. The careful choice of species you place in your pond will reduce maintenance costs and lead to a healthier pond. If you have trouble with algal blooms, contact a local specialist, such as a reputable nursery that sells aquatic plants, for advice.

  • Rain Water Harvest

    In the State of Oregon property owners may collect and use rain water gathered from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops or pavement, in aboveground enclosed tanks. Harvested rain water can be used for outdoor irrigation or outdoor cleaning of vehicles on private property without a permit. A permit is required in the following situations: When using underground water pipes or tanks. When using any individual tank that can contain over 5,000 gallons of water.

    When a tank of any size has a height greater than two times its smallest width. When a tank is placed closer to the property line than the minimal setback requirements. Check with the presiding jurisdictionCity or County – to determine setback requirements. If the collected rainwater is used for anything indoors or for any potable use. If rainwater is collected in a pond for re-use.

  • How Much Water Do You Need?

    Different activities require different amounts of water. Crop irrigation requires roughly 2-2.5 acre feet of water per acre during the June to September growing season. One acre foot is equivalent to 325,851 gallons. The size of the cistern needed will depend on the amount of water available, the quantity you want to collect, and what you plan to do with that water during a specific time frame.

  • Rainwater Catchment Formula

    The rainwater catchment formula will help define how much water is available for collection from a roof.

    Square Foot Roof Area x Inches of Annual Rainfall x 0.60 = Gallons of water per year that can be collected and stored in tanks. Key Points for Rainwater Harvest Pre-screen or filter rooftop runoff to prevent excessive sediment build-up or contamination in the tank from the roof. Use screens to mosquito-proof all tank inlets and outlets. Winterize the tank during hard freezes – particularly around the spigots. Never leave a tank completely full during a hard freeze. Any tank will crack if it is full under freezing conditions. Always have an overflow pipe near the top, regardless of how big the tank is. Be sure the overflow is directed away from structures and toward a place that will not cause erosion.


In Benton County, irrigation is needed to maintain crops and yards during the summer months when rainfall is limited. The maximum irrigation efficiency you can achieve depends on the system and management used. An efficient irrigation water application system coupled with good water management can reduce energy costs.

  • Irrigation Systems and Management

    The type of irrigation system and the quality of management defines the achievable application efficiency. It is possible to install a high efficiency system and still have low application efficiencies due to improper management. The three commonly used irrigation methods in Benton County are surface, sprinkler, and micro. When making your choice, take into account the required labor and operational maintenance associated with a particular system. Contact the OSU Small Farms Program to find out what irrigation system is best for your scenario.

    Contact OSU Small Farms Program

  • Key Factors of an Irrigation System

    • Crop water requirement 
    • Application uniformity 
    • Water supply reliability 
    • Operational precision 
    • Water use efficiency 
    • Economic returns
  • Video: Use Less Water in the Garden

Ground Water

  • Wells

    Roughly 500,000 citizens in Oregon use a household well and need to protect, test, and purify the water as needed to keep their family safe. A basic knowledge of well mechanics and issues will help property owners identify and solve problems that arise. Under Oregon law, ground water belongs to the public. Unlike the wells that farmers use, most residential wells are exempt from water right permit requirements. However, well water use is restricted in certain ways. For example, the maximum area that can legally be irrigated is one half acre. In some areas and at certain times of year, groundwater may be limited. Conserve well water by using native or other drought resistant vegetation in your landscape. Consult Benton SWCD for other water conservation practices.

  • Well Location and Tags

    All wells, no matter their use, must be physically tagged upon the sale of the property. This is required by OWRD’s Well Identification Program. If a well has no tag, the owner can contact OWRD to obtain a form titled Application for Well ID Number. Then the owner, well driller, or licensed pump installer will attach the stainless steel tag to the well. Your well is most likely located under a three to six-inch pipe sticking out of the ground near the house. You should also locate the pipe that connects the well to your house so you do not disturb it. Private locating companies can assist in locating the pipe and the well.

    OWRD’s Well Identification Program

  • Well Logs

    Well logs are kept by OWRD to track the current state of wells, including dry wells. Well logs can be used to get information about groundwater in an area prior to buying property or drilling a well. The well logs record when wells were deepened, the amount of water produced, and the water depth. OWRD’s website has instructions on how to locate the well log for your property.

    Well Testing and Drinking Water Quality Be aware that some problems invisible to the naked eye, such as hardness, high nitrate levels or high bacterial counts, require treatment to make your drinking water safe. Other issues that are more obvious may not be detrimental to one’s health and do not need to be treated.

    OWRD Well Log Report

Water Quality Management

  • Agricultural Water Quality

    In 1993, the Oregon State Legislature approved the Oregon Water Quality Management Act (Senate Bill 1010), directing ODA to help landowners reduce water pollution from agricultural sources and to improve overall water quality conditions. The focus of the Ag Water Quality Management program is on voluntary and cooperative efforts by landowners, Conservation Districts, Watershed Councils and others to protect and improve water quality. The Act outlines water quality conditions that agricultural activities are required to achieve. To implement the Act, the state was divided into 38 areas and a plan was developed for each area. The plans outline recommended practices to address soil erosion, riparian vegetation, and crop nutrient/animal waste management. The local area plans and regulations can be found on the ODA website listed in Additional Resources. The map on their webpage will help you determine your Management Area. In Benton County, you could be in the Middle Willamette, Mid Coast or Upper Willamette Siuslaw Areas.

    Ag Water Quality Management Program

  • Ground Water Management Area

    The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has designated parts of Benton, Linn, and Lane Counties as a Ground Water Management Area (GWMA) due to elevated nitrate in drinking water. The major sources of nitrate are fertilizer and manure, leaking septic systems, and nitrogen-fixation from the atmosphere. The purpose of the GWMA is to raise awareness about the health risk associated with elevated nitrate levels, establish voluntary programs to reduce ground water nitrate levels, and conduct research.

  • Floodplains

    Flooding is a natural stream process. A floodplain is the nutrient-rich land that is inundated with water during floods. These areas allow flood waters to spread out and slow down, reducing their erosive force. This process encourages aquifer recharge as water seeps into the soil. A permit is required for all development in the 100-year floodplain.

  • Riparian Areas

    Healthy riparian areas are vegetated borders found along streams, lakes and wetlands that provide the water body with shade, downed wood and organic debris. Although riparian areas cover only about 5% of the landscape, they are critical areas of plant and animal diversity. Typical riparian plants include alder, willow, cottonwood, salmonberry and sedges. Riparian vegetation provides key functions such as improved bank stability and water quality. Plants also slow the entry of rain and irrigation water into the stream and allow groundwater to recharge. Riparian areas are protected under the Agricultural Water Quality Rules and Forest Practice Rules. It’s very important to fence livestock away from riparian areas to help keep sediment, E. coli and other contaminants out of creeks. A riparian buffer should be at least 50 feet wide to trap eroding soils, 100 feet wide to filter pollutants, and 200-300 feet wide to provide wildlife with corridors for cover and travel. If you need to remove invasive plants from a riparian area, have a plan to replant the area promptly with native species. You may choose to eliminate weeds by mechanical means or use chemicals that are approved for use near water. Always follow directions on the label. Consider wildlife life cycles as you plan your management strategy. For example, delay mowing grassy areas until late July when birds are done nesting.

  • Wetlands

    A wetland is an area where the soil is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands may be covered by shallow water all year, or they may dry out during the summer. The three defining traits of wetlands are groundwater within the root zone during all or part of the growing season, hydric soils, and water-tolerant plants. Swamps, marshes, and vernal pools are a few types of wetlands. These valuable natural systems help maintain the ecological balance of a region. Wetlands filter pollutants, provide flood control, recharge groundwater, and provide wildlife habitat. If you are going to alter a wetland, you need a permit from the Department of State Lands.

    Department of State Lands Permits

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Program Contacts

Donna Schmitz
Donna Schmitz
Resource Conservationist II
541-753-7208 ext. 203
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