MCKENZIE BRIDGE, Oregon (STPNS) -- A plan to tap into 22 million gallons of McKenzie River water per day got a thumbs down last week from the State Water Resources Department. The decision came after the Willamette Water Co. appealed a 2012 recommendation from administrative law judge James Han to deny the company’s application.

If approved, the water company said it planned to pipe water from the river to serve a 75 square mile area in South Lane County, including the cities of Cottage Grove and Creswell. Both cities currently have their own water supplies. Han noted Willamette Water didn’t have buyers for the water or a timeline for lining them up.

“The Oregon Water Resources Department made the right choice here in denying this speculative water proposal by Willamette Water Co.,” said Lisa Brown, staff attorney for WaterWatch, in a statement. “Under Oregon law, Oregon’s waters belong to the public — not to private water companies hoping to profit by monopolizing the resource for future sale.”

In a March 7th decision the water department sided with the administrative law judge. Part of that rationale included the lack of land use approvals from Springfield and Lane County to withdraw water and build pipelines. Both would be needed to gain state approval. In addition, state law that requires water be put to “maximum beneficial use,” while the company indicated it would need decades, perhaps 40 years, to use all the water it was asking for.

Brown says the water department “found that Willamette Water Co.’s proposal was illegal because it was attempting to tie up a large block of water for undefined future sale, rather than proposing to use the water beneficially as required by law.”

Although the matter has been in the works for about five years, it may not be over yet. Willamette Water could appeal the decision to the State Water Resources Board, which oversees the department, or to the Oregon Court of Appeals. In June of 2012 the company modified its request, reducing the withdrawal to 10 million gallons a day. The state refused, saying the deadline for submitting information in the case record had already passed.