Understand Water Rights in Oregon: A guide for land trusts

The Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts is pleased to share a new practical guide to water rights in Oregon for use and reference by land trusts and other conservation organizations. Written by three attorneys with COLT’s Pro Bono Attorney program, the white paper provides a comprehensive and relevant introduction to key aspects of water law in Oregon, specifically as they relate to the work of land trusts in the state.

Simplified Table of Contents:

  • Introduction to Oregon Water Law
    • Basic Concepts
    • Deciphering a Water Right
    • Obtaining a New Water Right
    • Water Rights in Action
    • Due Diligence
  • Considering Water Rights with a Conservation Transaction
    • How Much Water?
    • Incorporating Water Rights in the Transaction
    • Partnerships
    • Monitoring Water Rights
    • Special Issues in Conservation Transactions
  • Eight different resources attachments for use and reference


The three authors have been involved in the intricate realm of Oregon water law for much of their respective professional careers, volunteer for COLT’s pro bono program, and have presented at past Oregon Conservation Law Forums:

  • Caylin Barter is a water and natural resource attorney currently with Jordan Ramis; previously she was the Flow Restoration Director with The Freshwater Trust.
  • Natasha Bellis works with the Deschutes River Conservancy overseeing their stream flow restoration programs; previously she worked with the Deschutes Land Trust as well as The Freshwater Trust.
  • Michelle Smith formerly worked at Davis Wright Tremaine law firm in the environmental and natural resources practice group.


COLT is grateful to these attorneys and our pro bono program for drafting this guide to water rights. COLT hopes this will help elevate the importance of, and ability to navigate, water rights for land trusts.  As the preface states, “Where water is necessary to support conservation goals, the land trust should proactively review available water rights and negotiate the purchase or use of water rights as part of conservation transactions. This guide intends to provide an Oregon land trust with the information necessary to allow it to address water rights as part of conservation transactions.”

As needed, the report will be improved upon. We will keep the latest version on this webpage.