All Oregon water rights must be put to “beneficial use.” The water laws of the state clarify that, “Beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit of all rights to the use of water in the state.” (Oregon Rev. Statutes § 540.610). In addition, not just any use of water qualifies. Passive water use, for example, will not qualify as the beneficial use necessary to create and maintain a water right. Only the artificial application of water constitutes irrigation, and naturally occurring sub-irrigation does not qualify as a “beneficial use.” Staats v. Newman, 164 Or.App. 18 (1999). Further, beneficial use implies that water is used without waste.
There are three steps to obtaining a water right in Oregon. First you must apply for a water right of use. Applications for new water rights of use are made to the Oregon Water Resources Department. If the Department finds that water is available and that the additional use is in the public interest, then they may issue a permit.
Second, you must develop your water right of use and construct your water diversion, delivery, and application system. A water permit sets a time by which well construction must be completed and the time by which water must be put to beneficial use. Other conditions may also be placed on the permit, such as the use of fish screens or the need to install monitoring equipment and report water use. Time extensions are available if the permit holder has shown diligence, and there is good cause for not meeting the terms of the permit in a timely manner.
Third, within a year of completion of the water system and applying the water beneficially, the permittee must submit a map and a water-use report prepared by a Certified Water Rights Examiner that illustrates the extent that the permittee “perfected” the permitted water use. (The Water Resources Department maintains a list of Certified Water Rights Examiners in the state. Call (503) 986-0900 or your local water master for CWRE’s in your area). If the Department determines that the permit conditions have been met, a water right certificate will be issued. The “certificated” water right will continue to be valid as long as the water is used according to the provisions of the water right at least once every five years.