Project Report:
2005 - 2006 Water Rights Acquisition Program
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


The Water Rights Acquisition Program increases stream flows for fish conservation, water quality improvements, or recreational use by purchasing, leasing or in other ways acquiring water rights (permits to take water from a stream) from voluntary sellers, mainly farmers, ranchers and private landowners. Our cooperative, free-market approach to water conservation balances the environmental needs of salmon (and other threatened fish species) with the economic needs of farmers and irrigators, and in doing so helps rural communities maintain their resource-focused industries while building local support for river and stream stewardship.

Water Protected Instream Annually


On December 12, 2005, the Alex C. Walker Foundation (the “Foundation”) awarded Oregon Water Trust (OWT) a generous grant of $10,000 to fund its Water Rights Acquisition Program (WRAP). The WRAP is the core program services area of OWT; it uses a free-market, cooperative approach to restore surface water flows for healthier streams in Oregon. Low streamflows often stem from the over-appropriation of water resources for out-of-stream uses, which significantly impacts critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and resident trout. Over the grant period, the Foundation has played a significant role in continuing to make the WRAP a success.

In 2006, we protected 160 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water instream, in cooperation with over 200 landowners. (See graph above). Long-term water increased significantly to 58 cfs, which is now 36% of our total water portfolio. In contrast, long-term water accounted for 21% (30 cfs) of total instream water in 2005. Of our total portfolio, 37.6 cfs came from 26 new water right transactions in 2006. Consequently, we exceeded the anticipated outcomes in our grant application that “10 new acquisitions will be secured, restoring at least 20 cfs for instream flows.”

Project Highlights
Our focused efforts in the Columbia Basin have been paying off. On July 21st, we celebrated the Austin Ranch project that shortened the irrigation season to leave 10 cfs in the Middle Fork John Day River after July 20th each year. This project complements restoration by OWT and other groups to benefit Spring Chinook and summer steelhead such as a planned long term flow restoration project on The Nature Conservancy’s Dunstan Preserve. In addition, Steve Parrett, Senior Project Manager, continues to work in the rest of the John Day basin to improve flow in key tributaries.

In the Grande Ronde Basin, we continued our partnership with upper Lostine River irrigators to ensure a minimum of 15 cfs instream for migrating spring Chinook salmon. This winter, landowners, partner groups, and OWT plan to work on a permanent solution for the Lostine River. Davíd Pilz, who joined OWT in August, will be managing the Grande Ronde, Umatilla and Walla Walla basins. In the Hood Basin, Kimberly Schonek is working with the East Fork Hood River Irrigation District to transfer 1 cfs of conserved water instream by 2009. OWT also continued to work with Clean Water Services to improve flow and water temperature in the Tualatin basin, combining riparian shading efforts with streamflow restoration.

In the Rogue Basin, Steve continued to work with the Rogue Valley Water for Irrigation, Streams, and Economy (WISE) project. WISE aims to develop a plan to manage water to benefit agriculture, irrigation, municipalities, the environment, recreation, and fisheries interests. Congress recently passed a bill making the Bureau of Reclamation the lead entity for a feasibility study examining a variety of these water management options. This project will ultimately improve streamflows in Bear and Little Butte Creeks. To provide a short term solution, OWT initiated a leasing program with three irrigation districts and six landowners to enhance instream flow by 5 cfs in Bear Creek. OWT also worked with Salmon Safe to initiate a “fast tracked” certification process for Salmon Safe growers who also participate in OWT’s water rights acquisition program.

2006 Water Protected Instream by Basin


The Oregon Water Trust uses innovative, market-based solutions to solve water flow problems in Oregon’s streams. Our Water Rights Acquisition Program purchases, leases or in other ways acquires water rights from voluntary sellers, mainly farmers, ranchers or private landowners. The acquired water is held in trust by the State of Oregon and kept instream to increase flows for fish conservation, water quality improvements, or recreational use. Some of our innovative techniques are split-season leases, drought relief programs, or helping farmers switch to less water-intensive crops. We work mainly with private landowners and acquire rights only from voluntary sellers at fair-market rates. By relying on private property rights and voluntary actions, and not on regulations or litigation, our cooperative ventures engage private irrigators, watershed councils, Indian tribes, government agencies, and other local stakeholders. As much as possible, acquisitions are coordinated with other watershed restoration projects to return strong, healthy flows from the headwaters to the downstream reaches.


Water is an important economic element especially in the Western United States. Water is an integral component of agriculture, which is the largest single industry sector in Oregon. The Oregon Water Trust uses free market solutions to improve stream flow throughout Oregon. We seek to work with landowners to improve irrigation efficiency while keeping land productive.

Information Dissemination

We disseminate project results and findings through our website, networking with other groups, and through speaking engagements. Our website documents our projects, provides outreach/education about market-based environmentalism, and gives links to allied agencies or non-profits. We network with water trusts and water stewards in other states, especially through the Columbia Basin Water Transactions program. We work with biologists from tribal or state / federal agencies to assess the impact increased stream flow is having on fish and habitat. We also seek informal feedback from local stakeholders and project partners on our projects, methods and impact. We speak at state, regional, and national gatherings.

Amount Approved
$10,000.00 on 11/30/2005 (Check sent: 12/12/2005)

  Related Organizations
Oregon Water Trust  

Lostine River dry from irrigation diversions
Lostine River dry from irrigation diversions

Lostine River dry from irrigation diversions
Lostine River after agreement to decrease irrigation diversions
Water Protected Instream Annually
2006 Water Protected Instream by Basin

522 SW Fifth Avenue
Suite 825
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 227-4464
(503) 227-4419
(503) 226-3480 (fax)


Mr. William Frederick Paulus
Executive Director, Oregon Water Trust

Posted 8/15/2006 1:27 PM
Updated   1/9/2008 11:47 AM

Lostine River after agreement to decrease irrigation diversions
Lostine River after agreement to decrease irrigation diversions

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