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Prospecting for Water on the McKenzie River - Speculating on Big Development
EWEB and the Willamette Water Company and Water Rights
– by Scott Rohter, December 2010
On February 9, 1990, a permit to use 4 cfs of water (cubic feet per second) from the McKenzie River was issued to Willamette Water Company, currently owned by Melvin McDougall and Gregory Demers. Willamette Water Co., although they own some pipe buried in the ground along Franklin Blvd. and McVey Hwy. on both sides of I-5 has no access to the McKenzie River, and no water treatment facilities to actually process the water. In other words, they don’t have any infrastructure to take any water out of the McKenzie River and render it potable for their customers in Goshen. They get their treated water by purchasing it and reselling it from EWEB.
EWEB provides Willamette Water Co. the water for their customers, but the .43 cfs that Willamette Water Co. actually uses comes from their own water right for 4 cfs, not from EWEB’s water rights which are for 119 cfs.
Is it time to be hoarding the water in the McKenzie River? “The Big Development Freight Train Keeps on Moving Down the Tracks”. What do all of the following things have in common? The brand new hospital at River Bend, the Flyover on I-5 at Beltline, the new I-5 exit at Goshen, the EMX in Eugene and Springfield and the one now being planned for West Eugene, the huge new EWEB operations facility on Roosevelt Blvd on the west side of town and the new pending permits to draw more water out of the McKenzie River by Willamette Water Company and by EWEB, more than doubling the current amount of water being withdrawn from the river? The answer: Big Development! None of these things are necessary for a city of our current size and population!
On November 5, 2008, Willamette Water Co. applied to the Water Resources Department (W.R.D.) for an additional permit to use 34 cfs more water (that’s about 22 million gallons per day) from the McKenzie River, more water than they can possibly use, now or in the foreseeable future. Jeff Demers applied for the permit on behalf of the Willamette Water Co. Jeff is the Director of Operations for Willamette Water Co. On December 19, 2008, a 30 day initial review period began in which public comment was accepted, however no public comment was received. On January 26, 2010, a proposed final order was issued by W.R.D. in favor of granting Willamette Water Co. the permit for an additional 34 cfs of water, and a 45 day public protest period began in which there were 2 protests filed by 2 separate entities for 2 different reasons. Water Watch, a public interest group, filed a protest and is concerned about low water flows in the McKenzie River, and Willamette Water Co. filed their own protest, objecting to a 2000 cfs bypass placed in their water right by W.R.D. requiring that in times of low flow there would always be at least 2000 cfs remaining in the McKenzie River. EWEB also raised an objection, although they didn’t actually file a formal protest to the 2000 cfs bypass requirement. They feared that this precedent might also affect their own water rights. Later EWEB withdrew their objection to the proposed final order. (Apparently EWEB's concerns were satisfied.)
There is a tentative hearing on Willamette Water Co.’s application for a new water right for 34 cfs more water, set for sometime in the spring or summer of 2011 before an administrative law judge. Willamette Water Co. is still only using .43 cfs of their original water right for 4 cfs from the McKenzie River, 20 years after their water right was approved by the W.R.D. They have applied for several extensions of time, over the years in order to show that they can use the rest of the water that they are currently permitted to use, to service the Goshen area south of Glenwood, but after 20 years in business, they are still only using .43 cfs of water. According to local water master Michael Mattick, W.R.D. classifies Willamette Water Co. as a "quasi-municipal water source". As such they cannot just apply for a water right and then sit on it indefinitely! Once a water right has been approved and certificated, it must be used. In other words, it must be "perfected". If they do not use the water, Willamette Water Co. can loose their right to the water, and they should! Twenty years after they received their permit to use 4 cfs of water from the McKenzie River they have still not perfected their original water right. In their new application for another permit they are requesting almost 100 times the amount of water that they are currently using and are asking to extend their service district a distance of 20 miles south along I-5 from Goshen, all the way to Cottage Grove including the communities of Goshen, Pleasant Hill, Creswell, Saginaw and Cottage Grove.
Analysis: Not only should Willamette Water Co's new application for another permit to use 34 cfs more water from the McKenzie River be denied, but they should also loose that amount of their originally permitted water right that they have not demonstrated the ability to use in the past 20 years since they received their permit in 1990! Right now it is obvious that the Willamette Water Co. is engaged in speculating. They are prospecting for water on the McKenzie River and they are speculating on future development. This should not be allowed by the W.R.D. Since it appears that Willamette Water Co. can’t even use the original 4 cfs of water that they are already permitted to use, why do they need or want another 34 cfs more water? And why would the Oregon Water Resources Dept. even grant them the permit to use it? Let me suggest an explanation.
Currently EWEB is in the process of negotiating to sell water (Eugene’s water) to the city of Veneta, which is 15 miles west of Eugene on Hwy 126. Many residents of Eugene and some members of the Eugene City Council think that this is an inappropriate use of EWEB’s water rights and a violation of EWEB’s original charter and purpose, and as such the City of Eugene is currently suing EWEB over this issue and over the control of those water rights to the McKenzie River. If in fact EWEB does really want to expand their operations and has bigger plans than just servicing the residents of Eugene as their charter states, and if they expect to receive some opposition to their planned expansion, then it is not entirely illogical to assume that they might want to enter into some type of secret relationship with a 3rd party like Willamette Water Co. to apply for a water permit that would eventually allow EWEB to sell the delivery of water to places like Goshen, Creswell, Pleasant Hill and Cottage Grove not to mention Veneta (which by the way, is where Greg Demers, one of the owners of Willamette Water Co. lives). If that’s the case, then Willamette Water Co. might even be a facade or a shell company that was put up to this by EWEB.
Note: EWEB also has an application pending for a new permit to withdraw 134 cfs more water out of the McKenzie River (approximately another 100 million gallons per day), more than doubling the amount that they currently withdraw!
Map for the 4 CFS existing permit
Map for the 34 CFS proposed permit
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A journalist has no better friend than the truth." - Scott Rohter