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Sunday, 02 October 2016


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Greg and Malia Kupillas

Our Ten Cents Worth Times Two
Gregory and Malia Kupillas’ response to Michael Campana’s comments on The Oregonian’s series of articles titled “Draining Oregon.”
We read Michael’s “Ten Cents Worth” and thought he made some really good points, which we will expand on later. However, we have considerable experience as Certified Water Rights Examiners in Oregon and Malia has been serving on the Oregon Geologic Map Advisory Committee since 2002, which adds additional perspective and moves the tale from sad to happy.
Disclosure Notice:
Gregory Kupillas served on the Oregon Ground Water Advisory Committee from 2005 to 2011 and was Chair for two years. Certified Water Rights Examiner since 1996. Served on the Oregon Water Resources Department Well Construction Rules Advisory Committee.
Malia Kupillas served on the Oregon Ground Water Advisory Committee from 1999 to 2005 and served as the Vice-Chair before serving two years as the Chair. Certified Water Rights Examiner since 1999. Served on the Oregon Water Resources Department Well Construction Rules Advisory Committee.
One could argue, like Michael Campana did, that our combined twelve years of serving on the Oregon Ground Water Advisory Committee, plus the facts that we are Certified Water Rights Examiners and have served on several Oregon Water Resources Department’s Well Construction Rules Advisory Committees, that we are also responsible for the sad tale of “Draining Oregon.” However, we do not see a sad tale. We see a tale headed for happy.
Campana’s comments that warrant mentioning again:
1. Discussing water use on the scale contemplated in the articles in terms of gallons just doesn’t make sense. We also prefer to use acre-feet.
2. Michael’s calculations that show the total amount of water pumped for irrigation would only cover an equivalent depth of 0.50 feet helps to bring things into perspective when you consider the Willamette Valley averages around 40 inches of rainfall per year.
3. OWRD should err on the side of caution when issuing permits. OWRD has been doing this for at least 17 years, and we have the clients as proof of that caution.
4. Utilize graduate/undergraduate students. OWRD has successfully been doing this and many of those students are now employees.
5. Meter all large capacity wells. OWRD started requiring meters as a permit condition in 1993 and started requiring water use reporting from those meters in the early 1990’saround the same time.
6. OWRD needs to be properly funded from General Funds so OWRD can continue to study the water resources and develop management programs that include aquifer recharge and aquifer storage and recovery.
Our additional ten cents worth:
• Aquifers and groundwater uses are very dynamic. Water levels change from cyclic weather patterns, changes in recharge and changes from over use. Groundwater use in agriculture varies by type of crop grown, weather pattern, and method of irrigation. Agriculture can also rotate between using surface water when it is available and reserve groundwater for use during times of drought or when the fish need more water in a stream. The groundwater levels can then recover during more normal or above- normal rainfall periods. Therefore, a perceived decline today may not be a decline in the future and become a happy tale.
Understanding the hydrogeology of an area and having long-term water level data help to understand the amount of water that may be available for use without overstressing. However, declining water levels from overuse can be stabilized or recovered by implementing additional water conservation measures and/or increasing recharge. Artificial recharge and aquifer storage and recovery can change this to a happy tale. Se the below link for information on AR and ASR projects in Oregon.

• The bulk of the funding for OWRD should come from the General Fund for several reasons:
o First, water is publically owned in Oregon and every decision OWRD makes has to take into account the welfare of the public (ORS 537.153(2) and OAR 690-009). Therefore, there is a public element that should be paid for by the public. The applicant for any water right transaction currently pays around 50% of the cost to process the application.
o Second, people forget they eat the food that is grown with the irrigated water. Therefore, the public also has a direct benefit from the water used to irrigate when they eat food grown in Oregon. Eating food grown in Oregon and locally also helps reduce the carbon footprint. Thus, irrigation allows agriculture to provide jobs and income to the state and reduce carbon emissions.
o Farmers do not have the luxury of passing on any annual fees for water use, which is really a tax, to their future consumers. The cost for farming continues to increase while the price for farm products are flat or are decreasing. The prices that farmers get for their products are largely out of their control, which makes it harder and harder to make a living in farming these days.

• The “Draining Oregon” article should have included this information:
o Many of the areas with a special designation have experienced water level declines due to well construction methods that have resulted in water commingling between water bearing zones in the Columbia River Basalts. Thus, the declines in these areas are not necessarily from over-use but from improper well construction. Future problems caused by improperly constructed wells could be avoided if the OWRD performed a full technical review of every well (which they currently are not doing because of a lack of funds). To begin addressing the current problems caused by commingling wells, OWRD created special well construction standards in the Mosier area for new wells as a pilot study. Existing wells are being repaired, replaced or abandoned. These special well construction standards will likely soon be applied to all new wells that obtain water from Columbia River Basalt aquifers. Therefore, the issue of well construction is being addressed moving groundwater in a happy direction.
o Development has reduced the amount of natural recharge aquifers used to receive by capturing the water and thereby expediting the travel time to the Pacific Ocean. Every ditch along every road and every drain tile captures water that could have become groundwater. Now that captured water stays as surface water and is expeditiously transported to the Pacific Ocean as quickly as possible. This captured water has also altered the hydrographs for the streams, which is why it is important to re-capture some of this lost recharge water and allow it to become groundwater.
o Aquifer recharge and aquifer storage and recovery have the potential to increase the amount of water available for future use and to stabilize water levels in areas where water levels are declining. Oregon at some time during the year experiences an overabundance of water. Usually, this overabundance is in the winter or when the snow melts in spring combined with spring storms. The best way for the state to implement these tools would be to develop these projects by basin. Currently, these projects are implemented in Oregon by a few municipalities, farmers, and irrigation districts. However, there would be economy-of-scale benefits to these projects if implemented at a basin or watershed level. This can change a sad tale to a happy tale.
o OAR 690-009 requires OWRD to review all groundwater rights for the potential to interfere with surface water and evaluate if there is adequate water in the stream if there is going to be an impact from pumping groundwater. We have seen OWRD deny many water right applications on the basis of these rules.
o A review of actual water use submitted to OWRD by farmers would show that most, if not all, farmers do not use their full allotted annual volume (duty). Farmers cannot afford to use more water than the crops need because that would unnecessarily increase their costs. Thus, any projections of water use based on the maximum amount allowed in the water right will overestimate actual use. The authorized duty is simply a use on paper, not in reality. Thus, a perceived sad tale may not be sad at all.
Water right permits require farmers to use best management practices for irrigation. In the last 17 years we have watched many of our clients switch to drip irrigation or other equally efficient methods of irrigation. The farmers use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation stewardship programs to voluntarily implement conservation practices. The following link provides some additional information on a case story for EQUIP in the Stayton-Sublimity area.
o The types of crops grown in an area also change in response to market demand and water demand, which changes the volume of water used for irrigation. Water conservation and growing high value crops that use less water are reducing the amount of water needed for irrigation, which creates a happy tale.
o The Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) is working in collaboration with OWRD to facilitate the geologic mapping that OWRD needs for a better understanding of the aquifers and how they connect to surface water.

Guy Gregory

Thanks for your review of 'Draining Oregon'. In that review, you’ve captured quite succinctly the conundrums of ground water management. In our world, decision makers not only deny climate change, but roll their eyes when you suggest that “Ground water comes from somewhere.” Our agencies (we’re right in there, too, and quite famously) are constantly under fire for attempting to promote something approaching sustainability.

We’re saying “no” a lot more these days, only when we have data, and we’re going to court to defend it almost every time.

But they’re still out there, and it’ll be hard to say no once the lessons of that article recede into history.

I appreciate your review, your acceptance (as do I) of a fair share of responsibility, and your proposal to move forward. Again, you’re an example for us all.


Guy Gregory
Washington State Department of Ecology

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