The Future of Harney County Water: Well Complaints

At meetings of the Groundwater Study Advisory Committee, Harney County Watershed Council, and the collaborative Community Based Planning sessions, domestic well and other users have been reporting drops in water levels. Both the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oregon Water Resources Deparment are conducting a formal groundwater study; OWRD is in charge of the observation wells for formal data. However,  some users whose wells are not part of the study, want to know how to report and register well complaints.

Reporting Decreases of Water

Fiie a “Well Complaint” about decreases in water levels with JR Johnson, Harney County Watermaster. Make an appointment to see her: 541-573-2591. She is extraordinarily busy; do not just ‘drop in.’

Bring your contact info (name/address, etc.) and whatever information you have about your wells (well location, any well logs—not necessary if you haven’t kept them—when you first started noticing the decreases, decreases over time, what steps you have taken to mitigate the problem and so on.

If there are decreases over time, try to provide specific information, such as the dates when you started noticing decreases and what you feel might be contributing to them.

The Watermaster will then log in to the official Oregon Water Ressources Departyment (OWRD) site and fill in the information you have given.

That information is not shared publicly. However, it does create a record over time for them and for you and is also part of any water decreases in observation and other wells that are part of the formal groundwater study.

Complaints can be made by holders of junior or senior water rights

Complaints about Water Quality

Information about contaminants that degrade water quality, (such as arsenic and salts) that are found in water wells, quantity and at what levels IS NOT a part of the groundwater study being conducted by USGS, Nor does the HC Watermaster or OWRD necessarily collect data about this.

The Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) does not have an official reporting form for the public to file complaints about well-to-well interference concerns about water quality or complaints about contamination in individual wells.

The procedure is for the complainant to contact the local Watermaster office, and the staff there will collect the necessary information from the complainant to make a preliminary determination about the situation. If the preliminary determination suggests that additional investigation is required, the Watermaster or their staff may visit the site to collect additional information.

The cities of Hines and Burns DO collect data about minerals, etc. in municipal wells and regularly share the info with their residents when they send out water bills.

Michael Campana, whose presentation about water flow in and out of the Basin was made to a meeting of the collaborative community planning process, included information about an arsenic study that was conducted for Lauren Smitherman’s thesis on his blog site: http://bit.ly/2nRfxSF

Community Based Planning: Well Decreases and Contamination

There has been some indication of desire to collect informal, anecdotal data from well permittees that have decreasing water levels or have some form of contamination in their wells. This is part of trying to figure out more about “what we don’t know” about water availability and water quality in the basin. This may or may not be the same information that is filed in “Well Complaints” with the OWRD by JR Johnson.

It may be that if enough data is gathered about contamination, a formal grant could be sought to quantify this.

Undue Interference: Senior and Junior Users 

OWRD is unable to limit the use of junior groundwater users to address interference with complaints from one or more specific senior users until it can establish that the senior user requesting relief has fully developed the groundwater resource.

Specifically, Division 8 rules provide the following definition of Substantial or Undue Interference: OAR 690-080(8) “Substantial or Undue Interference” means the spreading of the cone of depression of a well to intersect a surface water body or another well, or the reduction of the ground water gradient and flow as a result of pumping, which contributes to:

(a) A reduction in surface water availability to an extent that:

(A) One or more senior surface water appropriators are unable to use either their permitted or customary quantity of water, whichever is less; or

(B) An adopted minimum streamflow or instream water right with an effective date senior to the causative ground water appropriation(s) cannot be satisfied.

(b) The ground water level being drawn down to the economic level of the senior appropriator(s); or

(c) One or more of the senior ground water appropriators being unable to obtain either the permitted or the customary quantity of ground water, whichever is less, from a reasonably efficient well that fully penetrates the aquifer where the aquifer is relatively uniformly permeable. However, in aquifers where flow is predominantly through fractures, full penetration may not be required as a condition of substantial or undue interference.

Note:  I am a member of the Harney County Watershed Council; these are my views and do not necessarily refect those of council members.

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