Well Water Program

Most issues related to groundwater management in Oregon are handled by state agencies under the authority of state law. When federal or local agencies are involved, they usually work in cooperation with one or more of the state agencies.

The key state agencies involved in groundwater protection are:

This section will help you understand the agency roles related to groundwater in Oregon. With this understanding, you can begin making contacts, forming partnerships, and taking action to protect Oregon's groundwater.

Remember--agencies are made up of people. The people dealing with groundwater from different agencies often work together. They talk and share expertise. They serve on committees together. In short, the agencies are not isolated units but rather part of a community working on groundwater protection.


Oregon Water Resources Department (WRD)

Water rights

All of the water in Oregon--groundwater and surface water--belongs to the state, not to the landowner. Oregon Water Resources Department (WRD) is responsible for allocating water for beneficial uses.

WRD issues and manages water rights for both groundwater and surface water. The agency determines where surface water and groundwater uses interact and manages water rights accordingly.


WRD also is the regulatory agency for water wells. The agency licenses well contractors and inspects completed well construction. Well contractors are required to submit a start card to WRD before they drill, repair, deepen, or abandon a well. Upon completion of the work, they file a detailed well log with the department. Copies of well logs are available at the Salem office, most district offices, and through the WRD online GRID system.

Groundwater assessment

WRD, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, is in the process of assessing the state's groundwater. These assessments will include factors such as:

  • Quantity of water
  • Direction of flow
  • Flow rate
  • Recharge areas
  • Response to pumping
  • Natural problems such as salt water and arsenic

A better understanding of these characteristics will help scientists assess the potential for contamination.

The Portland Area, Deschutes Basin, and Upper Klamath assessments have been completed. The Willamette, Rogue, and South Coast areas currently are being studied.

How to find the agency

WRD is based in Salem with district offices throughout the state. Districts typically are made up of more than one county and are headed by a Watermaster.

Oregon Water Resources Department
725 Summer Street NE, Suite A
Salem, OR 97301


Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), in partnership with many other agencies, has the primary responsibility for Oregon's groundwater protection program. DEQ uses a variety of regulatory and voluntary programs to protect the state's groundwater.

Implementation of the Groundwater Quality Protection Act

Groundwater monitoring and assessments are used to identify problems.In areas where significant problems are found, DEQ uses local management committees to develop groundwater management plans. For details, visit the DEQ website and read about groundwater protection.

Permitting system

DEQ issues permits for controlling waste entering the state's waters. To learn more, visit the DEQ certification, licensing, and permitting page or, to inquire about specific permits, check an application status, search wastewater permits, or check the NPDES permit template, visit their general permits and licenses page. Anyone wishing to release a potential contaminant into the environment must obtain a permit. In issuing the permit, DEQ indicates that they have evaluated the situation, and that the release of the potential contaminant will have no adverse effects on water quality.

Septic tanks

While the release of permitted contaminants usually is not associated with private residences, there is one area where households do create a major concern for groundwater quality: on-site wastewater treatment systems such as septic tanks and drainfields.

DEQ's On-Site Program is responsible for ensuring that septic systems do not contribute to groundwater contamination. In some counties, the county environmental health department serves as the representative of DEQ and issues permits under their guidelines (or occasionally under more stringent local guidelines).

How to find the agency

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
811 SW Sixth Avenue
Portland, OR 97204-1390


Water Quality Division: 503-229-5279


Oregon Department of Human Services' Drinking Water Program (DHS-DWP)

DHS-DWP administers a number of programs related to safe drinking water from groundwater sources.

Drinking water protection

DHS-DWP is responsible for:

  • Delineating wellhead protection areas
  • Analyzing susceptibility to contamination of public water systems using groundwater supplies
  • Evaluating the interface of surface water and groundwater in wells and springs near surface water sources.

Check out the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to learn more about federal water regulations.

Water testing

When a home with a private drinking water well is sold, the seller must report results from coliform and nitrate tests of the water.

Public water systems must test their water regularly and report results to DHS-DWP. These data can prove very useful in determining local groundwater conditions.

How to find the agency

Oregon Department of Human Services, Drinking Water Program

P.O.Box 14450
Portland, OR 97293-0450


Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA)

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has lead responsibility for water quality protection in areas of agricultural activities.

Agricultural Water Quality Management Area Plans

ODA is developing Agricultural Water Quality Management Area Plans throughout most of the state. ODA ensures that the plans consider groundwater as well as surface water.

Once an Area Plan is in effect, ODA enforces any associated rules, so concerns about groundwater contamination related to agricultural activities should be referred to them.

Confined animal feeding operations

Potential water contamination from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is regulated by ODA. CAFOs in Oregon that confine animals for at least 4 months or have a wastewater facility are required to operate under a permit. To learn more, visit ODA Natural Resource's confined animal feeding operations webpage.

Funding for research

The ODA Groundwater Research and Development Program provides grants for research that addresses groundwater issues related to pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Money for this program comes from a tax on fertilizer sales. Results of the research projects are available from the ODA Website.

How to find the agency

ODA Natural Resources Division



Oregon State University Extension Service

Oregon State University is the state's Land Grant institution. As such, OSU staff conducts research related to agricultural and land-use issues to address Oregon's specific needs and then distribute research-based recommendations. The OSU Extension Service has offices in every county of the state, several research stations, and campus-based faculty. You might be familiar with the terms County Agent or Cooperative Extension; they both refer to the OSU Extension Service.


OSU Extension faculty have been actively involved in a number of research projects related to groundwater, ranging from studies of various agricultural practices to monitoring of drinking water wells for nitrate contamination.

The Extension Water Quality Initiative

The Extension Water Quality Initiative states that Extension crop production recommendations must consider water quality as well as agricultural production. Updated Extension agricultural and gardening recommendations incorporate new research related to the potential of contaminating groundwater with fertilizers or pesticides.

Oregon Well Water Program

Extension also houses the Oregon Well Water Program to help private well owners prevent contamination of the groundwater supplying their drinking water. This project provides the following services:

  • Printed materials
  • Classes
  • Nitrate-screening events
  • Answers to public questions related to private wells
  • Help with designing local educational programs to address groundwater issues

Watershed Stewardship Education Program (WSEP)

WSEP provides training to help watershed councils and other residents understand how watersheds work and apply that knowledge to local projects.

How to find the agency

Well Water Web:

Main Extension Website:

Find county offices on the Extension Website


USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service, is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Conservation projects

NRCS conservationists work with private landowners and communities to help them curb erosion, conserve and protect water, and solve other natural resource problems.

NRCS and SWCD, in general, aren't involved in any specific groundwater protection programs, but they do consider the effects on groundwater when designing conservation projects.

How to find the agency

1201 NE Lloyd Blvd, Suite 900
Portland, OR 97232

Local NRCS and SWCD staff usually are housed together in the USDA Service Centers.


Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD)

Locally based Soil and Water Conservation Districts work closely with the USDA, NRCS, and ODA. Each district has an elected board of five to seven directors that provides grassroots input to NRCS and ODA. In Oregon, there are 45 conservation districts. SWCD boundaries often are the same as the county; however, some counties are divided into more than one district.

In addition to elected directors, some SWCDs have one or more employees to handle administrative duties or to provide technical assistance with conservation programs.

Any local groundwater protection project most likely would involve someone with NRCS or SWCD ties.

Groundwater Management Areas and Watershed Councils

In a designated Groundwater Management Area (GWMA), the SWCD might serve as a coordinating office and house any special GWMA staff. Often, Watershed Council activities are coordinated through SWCDs (for more general information on watershed councils and their role in Oregon, visit the Network of Oregon Watershed Councils' website).

How to find the agency

Oregon Association of Conservation Districts


Watershed Councils

Watershed councils provide a framework for residents living in a common drainage to work together to solve local water quality issues.


Watershed councils bring together all of the various groups with interests in water quality issues. People with a vested interest in water quality protection activities are referred to as stakeholders. Watershed councils strive to have representatives of all stakeholder groups on the board.


Watershed councils typically coordinate assessments of stream conditions, restoration projects, and other grassroots activities related to improving water quality.

Watershed councils are officially recognized by the state and receive much of their funding through grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Some councils have a paid coordinator.

Many watershed councils hold regular public meetings, often with an educational presentation.

While the focus of watershed councils is primarily surface water, groundwater and surface water do interact, so groundwater protection activities are appropriate to include in their projects.

How to find a watershed council

A list and map of watershed councils is available on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board's website.


U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

The USGS shares responsibility with WRD and the Oregon DEQ for investigating and mapping groundwater. Over the years, USGS has mapped groundwater supplies for much of Oregon and has completed numerous studies related to groundwater quality.

The USGS website has an extensive bibliography, or you can contact the district office directly to request information about specific areas.

The USGS also has entered into a cooperative agreement with the Oregon Department of Human Services Drinking Water Program to provide assistance in delineating wellhead protection areas of larger public water systems in Oregon.

How to find the agency

USGS Oregon District Office
2130 SW 5th Ave
Portland, OR 97201

National Website:


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

While the EPA has an interest in groundwater protection, DEQ administers most of the federal requirements for groundwater protection. EPA plays the following roles:

The national and regional EPA Web sites are packed with information on groundwater and drinking water protection.

How to find the agency

U.S. EPA Region 10
1200 6th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101


EPA Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water website: