Martha Pagel: Giant of the Oregon Water Bar

Posted on July 25, 2019 by Rick Glick

With great sadness, I write to mourn the loss of my dear friend and ACOEL Fellow, Martha Pagel.  In her long battle with cancer, Martha demonstrated great character, courage and grace, never losing her sunny and defiant outlook.  Those of us who knew her well were not surprised by how she fought that battle, but it was humbling and inspiring to witness.

Martha was at the center of Oregon’s water law community, known throughout the state not just for her legal acumen, but also for her ability to find solutions to challenging water supply problems that were fair to all parties.  She was a great strategist, whether representing small family farms or large public utilities, and enjoyed the respect and friendship of decision makers—agencies, legislators and governors.

Martha’s reputation for excellence and good judgment extended beyond Oregon.  For example, she served as an arbitrator appointed by the States of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado to resolve a dispute pursuant to the decree entered by the U.S. Supreme Court in an original jurisdiction case, Kansas v. Nebraska & Colorado (No. 126, Original).

She had a deft touch that made people want to follow her direction.  I have had the good fortune of being a supplicant before the agencies Martha ran, on opposite sides of Martha in disputes and, most recently, as co-counsel for a major hydropower permitting process.  Whether one was opposed to her or worked alongside her, the experience was always upbeat and fun, most often resulting in workable outcomes.  It was Martha’s style not to attack opponents, but rather to bring them along to her way of thinking, which often proved irresistible.

Martha had a long and distinguished career.  After graduating from San Diego State University and Willamette University College of Law, Martha served as assistant attorney general with the Oregon Department of Justice’s Natural Resources Section, director of the Oregon Department of State Lands, natural resources advisor to former Governor Barbara Roberts, and director of the Oregon Water Resources Department.  She joined Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt as a shareholder in 2000, where she led the firm’s Environmental Group and mentored many young attorneys.

Martha was a Fellow in the College and served on the Membership Committee.  Among her many other honors, in 2015 Martha received the Oregon State Bar’s Environmental and Natural Resources Section Award in honor of her leadership, service, and outstanding contributions in the areas of environmental and natural resources law in the Pacific Northwest. Martha was consistently listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was recognized by Oregon Super Lawyers for her work in water and natural resources law. This year, Martha was recognized as a Band 1 Environmental lawyer by Chambers USA. 

Martha and her husband Vic loved to dance, and Fellows attending the annual meeting in New Orleans will remember them on the dance floor.  She was graceful on her feet, and graceful in the practice of law. Enviable, but hard to emulate.

Martha’s contribution to Oregon water law and to ACOEL will long be remembered.  We will miss her.



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