House Bill 3111 and the “3111 Process”

HB 3111 and its legislative follow-up, SB 129, established a process for irrigation districts in Oregon to remap their boundaries to ensure state records were properly aligned with district records. On its website, the Oregon Water Resources Department describes the process:

“HB 3111 (1989) and SB 129 (1993) established a process to petition the Water Resources Commission for approval of an irrigation district map clarifying the location and use of water rights within the district. Under current law, all re-mapping petitions were to be submitted by July 1, 1994.” [OWRD, Source]

This 2003 legislative summary from OWRD further expands on the explanation of the process:

“In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a recognition that, for a variety of reasons, the state’s water right records and the water right records of many irrigation districts did not match. In order to resolve this problem, the Legislature passed HB 3111 in 1989 and SB 129 in 1993. These bills established a process to petition the Water Resources Commission for approval and acceptance of a district map indicating the location and use of water rights within the district. The current law under ORS Chapter 541 provides the process and standards to ensure that district water right mapping petitions do not injure existing water right holders and do not enlarge the district’s water rights of record. To date [2003], almost 30 qualifying districts have had their water right re-mapping petitions approved.” [OWRD, Source]

HB 3111 allowed a remapping process that enabled irrigation districts to redistribute acreages with water rights no longer being utilized. These acreages that had ceased to be irrigated were identified as a particular problem due to development within irrigation district boundaries over the years that had eliminated the need or ability to irrigate portions of certain parcels. For example, new freeways and roads, barns, or other structures might cover previously irrigated fields. The introduction of pivot irrigation created the familiar circular fields of today and left corners or formerly rectangular fields unirrigated. Lands that were no longer irrigated were in danger of losing water rights, as water rights that are not utilized every five years are subject to cancellation. Each one of the Umatilla Project irrigation districts—Stanfield, Hermiston, West Extension, and Westland—underwent a remapping process to redistribute some of these unused water rights acreages to other locations within the district boundaries and to create an accurate district map for state records.

Who approved the changes?

Irrigation districts were required to submit the changes to the Oregon Water Resources Department for approval. However, neither 3111 legislation or OWRD created strict designations for how Districts would handle transfers within their boundaries. These decisions were made by District boards and managers.

Is this process ongoing?

No. Although districts may still facilitate transfers, the 3111 process was a one-time procedure aimed at giving districts the opportunity to address a specific problem on a large scale. It is important to note, however, that even after submitting an initial product by the 1994 deadline, some irrigation districts continued working through the 3111 process, updating maps to meet state specifications. For example, West Extension Irrigation District finished the process in 2004. HB 3111 sought to provide a broad opportunity to create accurate map records. Irrigation districts are expected to continuously update records as needed and follow the proper protocol for transfers.

HB 3111 in Westland Irrigation District

Completed 02/26/2001 (SP.ORD. Vol 55, Pg. 36)

HB 3111 allowed irrigation districts to remap their district and transfer water rights from portions that were no longer being used to areas of the district where they could be properly utilized. In Westland, the district manager identified such parcels and worked with landowners to redistribute the acres of water rights that were no longer being used to another location within the district. Land owners who had ground that was considered to be impacted—i.e. no longer being irrigated and in danger of being lost—were given the option to transfer their water rights to another part of their property or put it up for auction through the District.  If this was the case, the District facilitated the bids and the transfer. Although the District facilitated the process, landowners who chose to put their rights up for bids received were compensated in full, and some individuals in the district opted to do this.

HB 3111 in Stanfield Irrigation District

Completed 04/07/1998 (SP.ORD. Vol 52, Pg. 348)

Stanfield’s overall process resembled Westland’s in many ways. After the district had gone through the remapping steps and transferred acreages per original owner desires, remaining acres were put out for bids through a District-run auction.  

HB 3111 in West Extension Irrigation District

Completed 11/22/2004. (SP. ORD. Vol. 61, Pg. 555)

HB 3111 in Hermiston Irrigation District

Hermiston Irrigation District did not go through the 3111 process in the same way as the other irrigation districts in the Umatilla Basin. OWRD began working with them in the 1980’s to reconcile their decreed water right with actual irrigated acres. 

You can learn more about water transfers in irrigation districts here (Chapter 690, Division 385)


Federal boundary changes and the Umatilla Basin Project

While HB 3111 focused on aligning state boundary records with irrigation district records, federal boundary change action was focused on reconciling federal boundary records with those of the districts. Hermiston, Stanfield, Westland, and West Extension Irrigation Districts were all established as part of the Umatilla Project, a federal effort, in the early 1900s. Each district had an associated repayment contract from the Bureau of Reclamation. Although districts may have obtained water rights from private ditch companies they absorbed, supplemental water from federal storage projects (like McKay Reservoir) can only be delivered to lands within the official federal boundary. While primary water rights are in the name of districts in the Umatilla Basin, supplemental water rights from the McKay Dam were obtained in the name of the Bureau of Reclamation, who then contracted with districts, in this case Westland and Stanfield.

The power to change the boundaries of an irrigation district was established in repayment contracts between the districts and the Bureau of Reclamation. These repayment contracts account for the Bureau of Reclamation’s costs when constructing the original infrastructure for the irrigation districts. Besides detailing the necessary repayments, the contracts grant the Secretary of the Interior the ability to approve boundary changes.

Aside from the language in these contracts, another federal document specifically addressed boundary changes for irrigation districts in the Umatilla Basin. The Umatilla Basin Project Act (Public Law 100-557, 1988) was a federal law aimed at improving conditions for anadromous fish in the Umatilla Basin while protecting the ability of irrigation districts to provide water for irrigated agriculture. Although the Umatilla Basin Project Act was not focused on boundary changes, at the time of its passage, there was a widespread recognition that the boundary change process needed to occur as other changes to water sources and delivery systems in the districts were introduced with Columbia River exchange programs. As such, the Act included language that allowed a one-time boundary expansion for the four Umatilla Project irrigation districts to include lands beyond the original acreage requirements set out in the original contracts (Section 208). You can read the full Public Law 100-557 here.

However, the federal power to approve a boundary change was not without a process. The federal boundary change process necessitated an Environmental Assessment, or EA for each irrigation district. These multi-year studies were prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and served as final decision for the boundary expansions in question.

Umatilla Basin Project Full Environmental Assessment here.

You can read more about the Umatilla Basin Project on the Bureau of Reclamation’s website.

Why did the boundaries need to be changed?

Across the Basin, irrigation districts were delivering water outside their federally recognized boundaries. Through the HB 3111 process, districts worked to reconcile official state records with district boundary records. However, as the districts were originally established by the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that is part of the Department of the Interior, it was important that any federal project water (i.e. McKay Reservoir water) or Columbia River water be delivered to lands that were contained within the official federal boundary. As the Umatilla Basin Project Act refocused on the Umatilla Projects district and the establishment of new infrastructure and exchange programs, district lands receiving federal water needed to be officially recognized in the federal boundaries.