Water League & FOFF host town hall on enforcement on small farm water use

GRANTS PASS, Ore.- Water League and Friends of Family Farmers host a town hall at the Fruitdale Grange to discuss the Oregon Water Resources Department’s recent enforcement on small farm water use.

In 1955, Oregon’s Groundwater Act passed, which meant a person could not sell what they intentionally irrigated on their property if they did not have a water right.

“As soon as you sell a zucchini out of that garden, you are violating the law,” said Co-Executive Director of Friends of Family Farmers, Alice Morrison. “It discourages a community food system, and it also creates a system where water rights are a scarce commodity.”

According to Water League’s Executive Director, Christopher Hall, Oregon has recently started cracking down on half acre gardeners who use their home wells to grow food. Hall says he doesn’t understand why it’s a problem to let these people sell from their gardens.

“Domestic wells, of which there’s almost a quarter million of them, only use 4% of all the groundwater that’s being pumped,” Hall said

“And commercial agriculture, is using 74%? Is that the current statistic?” Morrison asked Hall.

“82% of all ground water,” Hall corrected.

The Oregon Water Resources Department says there are many legal ways to irrigate commercial crops including harvesting rainwater, going through a municipality or local irrigation district, getting water deliveries and more. OWRD says wells are allowed to provide water for your household, primarily for maintaining a lawn or family garden, but not for crops grown to sell.

“In Oregon, all water belongs to the people,” An OWRD Spokesperson said. “If you are using water to grow crops for your profit, then you are now profiting off the water of Oregon and that is not fair to the rest of the users who are accessing water in a legal way.”

Morrison says while water right applications are open, they are costly, take too much time and are rarely approved. Hall and Morrison agree that water law is important in preserving the environment, but they also say something needs to change.

“Water policy has to reflect the conditions that we’re in, but at the same time, we do need to find a way to change the current system to help us feed our communities and give people the opportunity to grow a farm business,” Morrison said.

For resources and information on water law, head to oregon.gov/owrd.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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