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Oregon Appeals Court nixes bid by Greg Demers to secure big water rights on the McKenzie River

Eugene Register Guard

By Christian Wihtol

November 16, 2017

The Oregon Court of ­Appeals has thrown cold ­water on a Lane County company’s attempt to siphon millions of gallons of water daily from the McKenzie River.

The appeals panel, in a ruling Wednesday, said the state Water Resources Commission was correct in ­denying the application by Willamette Water Co. to draw 22 million gallons of water a day from the McKenzie.

The judges said the ­company failed to demonstrate that it could put the water to beneficial use within five years. The beneficial-usage timeline is set in state law and ­regulations, the judges said.

Willamette Water Co. is headed by Veneta businessman Greg Demers. A company lawyer did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

The company can appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The ruling follows a nearly decadelong push by ­Willamette Water Co. to ­secure the water rights.

The company had said it would install ­water lines and other ­infrastructure to distribute and sell McKenzie water in the Creswell and Cottage Grove areas.

The Portland-based nonprofit ­environmental group WaterWatch of ­Oregon opposed Willamette Water Co.’s efforts, saying the company’s ­attempt to get legal rights to a significant portion of the McKenzie’s flow was legally flawed and ran counter to the ­public interest.

The company, which operates a small water distribution system ­serving Goshen, in 2008 applied for the right to draw the large volume of ­water from the river. It was never clear where on the McKenzie the company would have constructed pumping facilities.

The state water commission in 2014 denied Willamette Water Co.’s ­request for the water right, noting that it had not sought permission from Lane County and Springfield to build the facilities needed to pull water from the McKenzie.

The company appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

An administrative law judge in April 2012 recommended that the state agency deny the company’s application, saying the firm’s water request was improperly “speculative” because it had no identified buyers and was not ready to use the water. Neither Cottage Grove nor Creswell, which have their own municipal water sources, has committed to buy water from the company.

Testimony from the firm and state water ­officials showed that the company would need decades, perhaps 40 years, to use all the McKenzie water it had requested, the administrative law judge wrote.

The state water board later adopted the judge’s recommendations, saying the company had failed to demonstrate a demand for the water in the firm’s proposed 75-square-mile service area.

The company later said it wanted to reduce its ­request to 10 million gallons a day, but the state refused to ­consider that.

Source: http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/36153369-75/oregon-appeals-court-nixes-bid-by-greg-demers-to-secure-big-water-rights-on-the-mckenzie-river.html.csp

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