In April, we reported on a plan by the Oregon Water Resources
Department (WRD) to impose an “exempt use well fee” that would apply to every
rural property owner in Oregon with a domestic well.
As we reported, the WRD planned to ask the Oregon legislature
to create a new annual tax for every rural Oregon homeowner with a well. The
WRD, like all state agencies, currently receives its funding from the state
general fund, which is composed primarily of money which the state generates
from income taxes paid by Oregon citizens.
The WRD complains that it shouldn’t have to rely on the
general fund, as the amount of money the state has to spend rises and falls with
Apparently, the WRD believes that even though the public is
suffering through a prolonged recession, they shouldn’t be affected, and they
shouldn’t have to appear before the legislature and make their case for why they
should receive precious tax dollars that would otherwise go to schools, police,
and other important services.
In an effort to avoid having to address the legislature each
biennium and explain why the WRD programs have merit, like every other state
agency, the WRD proposed the exempt use well fee. The gist of the fee was that
every rural domestic well user would have to pay an annual fee to the WRD to
enable the WRD to continue its programs.
People who don’t have domestic wells wouldn’t be required to
pay a dime, and cities using thousands of gallons of well water each day would
pay the same fee as a family of four using 150 gallons.
In the meantime, people and cities using surface water
wouldn’t pay a dime under the WRD plan, nor would Oregon residents using
municipal water, which obviously is the vast majority of
In other words, the WRD planned to target rural Oregon
homeowners to pay the entire costs for an agency that claims to benefit all
The WRD believed this was a fair tax.
OIA was the only group to report on the WRD’s plan, but it
made news. After we sent our email, people started talking about the WRD
proposal, and radio hosts like Lars Larson passed the word along.
As a result of our efforts, Governor Kitzhaber intervened,
and asked the WRD to shelve their plans to create the new tax. The WRD is
exploring other options which don’t involve asking rural Oregonians to pay for
an agency that should rely on the general fund just like everyone
This is another example of what we can do when we all band
together for a common cause. Defeating a very unfair new tax is just one
example. There will be plenty more as we approach a new legislative