Archive for the 'Washington' Category

May 21 2013

WA: Golf course water case to state high court

Published by under Washington

On May 21, the Washington State Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could determine whether many Washington homes and businesses have enough water to sustain them. Scott Cornelius, et al v. Washington Department of Ecology, et al, is known by many as the “Washington State University golf course case.”

If the Supreme Court rules in support of WSU and the state Department of Ecology, then water supplies will be in jeopardy for thousands of people from eastern Washington to the San Juan Islands. In Pullman, Wash., and Moscow, Idaho, two university towns in the arid rolling hills of the Palouse, more than 50,000 people depend on ancient water pumped from basalt aquifers as their sole source of water. For 70 years, the groundwater has been dropping 1-2 feet per year.

WSU’s expanded 18-hole Palouse Ridge golf course, opened in 2008, uses irreplaceable 20,000-year-old groundwater to irrigate its golf greens, tees, and fairways. The Department of Ecology affirmed the university’s right to that water partly by skewing the 2003 Municipal Water Law to side-step the “use it or lose it” principle of western water law.”

Even here where we have a university and a very well-defined aquifer problem, we still can’t get it right,” said Scotty Cornelius, a homeowner in Pullman who depends on a well, and leader in the legal challenge. “We still are pressured by our administrative and political leaders, rubber-stamped by Department of Ecology, to develop an amenity using water that cannot be replaced.”

Appellants are Scotty Cornelius, the Palouse Water Conservation Network, and the Sierra Club’s Palouse Group.

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May 06 2013

WA: Yakima water supply estimate released

The Bureau of Reclamation’s May 2013, Total Water Supply Available forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates a full water supply for both senior and junior water rights.

“The water conditions at the end of April in the Yakima Basin have reservoir levels above average while snowpack is near average at most sites and below average at a few.” said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project River Operations supervisor.

At this time both junior and senior water rights holders are expected to receive their full water supply. The water supply forecast will be updated each month through July. Specific water delivery levels will not be determined until later in the year when the reservoir system’s storage begins to decline.

The May TWSA forecast is based on flows, precipitation, snowpack, and reservoir storage as of May 1, along with estimates of future precipitation and river flows. Other future weather conditions that determine the timing of the run-off and the demand for water are also critical in determining streamflows, reservoir storage, and the water supply available. “The upcoming spring and summer weather will have an impact on crop demands and stream flow levels. Water saved through good irrigation practices will help increase the amount of water in the reservoirs at the end of the season,” Garner said.

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Apr 29 2013

WA: Damages results in lower flow

The Bureau of Reclamation temporarily reduced water deliveries to irrigation districts in the Columbia Basin Project while engineers assess damage to the Main Canal just below Pinto Dam located in eastern Grant County, Wash.

Water flows in the canal must be reduced so work crews can get to the collapsed concrete panel and assess the damage. Flows were at 7,000 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) when the crack was reported by a canal ditch rider on Monday.

“We’re reducing flows in the Main Canal, and expect the canal to be at its lowest level by Wednesday evening,” Ephrata Field Office Manager Stephanie Utter said. “While repairs are taking place there will be some disruption in water deliveries directly from the West and East Low Canals later this week.”

People receiving water deliveries from the Quincy-Columbia, East Columbia, and the South Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts should also expect water deliveries to be reduced or interrupted through early next week, Utter said.

The canal will be monitored continuously as repairs are made and water flows are eventually restored early next week. Officials indicate that there is no immediate threat to public safety while this repair work is taking place.

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Mar 26 2013

WA: Progress in processing Yakima requests

Progress continues to be made as the Department of Ecology evaluates pending requests for new water rights based on a U.S. Geological Survey study that shows how new groundwater pumping affects flows in the Yakima River.

Water right processing in the Moxee and Wide Hollow subbasins is winding down, and Ecology plans to begin reviewing requests for new ground and surface water permits in lower Kittitas County next. Work remains under way in areas of West Richland, Richland, and Badger Canyon in Benton County.

Applicants are asked to consider a number of options to help the agency in making permit decisions in the context of study results.

The USGS study indicates new groundwater uses will reduce flows in the Yakima River. Also, some local aquifers are declining in response to pumping by existing water users.

“We’re finding that most people are setting aside their requests for water – an option that provides them time to seek needed mitigation or consider other alternatives,” said Sage Park, a water resources manager with Ecology.

Out of 293 applicants contacted so far, 126 of respondents have requested that their water application be placed on hold. Another 48 respondents have withdrawn their application and 15 applications have been denied. The remaining applicants have yet to return information on how they would like their water request to be processed.

Completion of the USGS study and computer model in the fall of 2011 provided the best scientific information available to make water right decisions and for achieving mitigation. It resulted from a legal settlement with the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that maintain new groundwater pumping only worsens the total water supply in the basin.

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Mar 07 2013

WA: Yakima water flow looking good

The Bureau of Reclamation’s March 2013 Total Water Supply Available forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates that there will be a full water supply for both senior and junior water rights.

“At this time the water supply for the basin is expected to be near to slightly below normal.” said Yakima Project River Operations Supervisor Chuck Garner. “February snowfall was below average until a series of storms hit the Cascades bringing amounts closer to normal. We’re anticipating spring conditions will have a significant impact on the final water supply.”

Reclamation will present water supply forecasts monthly through July. Specific water delivery levels will not be determined until later in the year after reservoir storage begins to decline.

The March TWSA forecast is based on flows, precipitation, snowpack, and reservoir storage as of March 1, along with estimates of future precipitation and river flows. Other future weather conditions that determine the timing of the run-off and the demand for water are also critical in determining streamflows, prorationing, and the extent to which the reservoirs fill.

“The Yakima Basin weather outlook is favorable and the reservoir system storage on March 1st was a healthy 122 percent of average,” Garner said. “We expect the reservoirs to fill and the runoff to provide for early season demands.”

In the event that spring precipitation is unfavorable and runoff is below average, there still should be an adequate supply, but since weather conditions can be unpredictable at times Garner recommends that water conservation always be a consideration in the Yakima Basin.

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Jan 23 2013

WA: WSU golf case goes to Supreme Court

A high stakes water rights case over declining drinking-water supplies that began with the expansion of Washington State University’s golf course is headed for the Washington Supreme Court.

The Washington Court of Appeals transferred the long-running case to the Supreme Court on Jan. 10. Parties now await a decision by the Supreme Court whether it will accept the case, and if so, scheduling of oral argument. The legal challenge could potentially protect water statewide now threatened by extensive over-allocation of water rights by the state’s Department of Ecology.

“Even here where we have a university and a very well-defined aquifer problem, we still can’t get it right,” said Scotty Cornelius, a resident of Pullman, private well owner, and leader in the legal challenge. “We still are pressured by our administrative and political leaders, rubber-stamped by Department of Ecology, to develop an amenity using water that cannot be replaced.”

In contrast to wetter western Washington, the Palouse country along the Washington-Idaho border is dry. Drinking water comes from wells that tap ancient aquifers. Groundwater levels in the Grande Ronde Aquifer supplying 50,000 people in the Pullman-Moscow area are dropping about a foot each year for the past 70 years when measurements began.

Despite the threat to communities’ water supplies, Ecology approved changes to WSU water rights to allow the university to expand its water use for an 18-hole golf course. In 2006 Cornelius, joined by the Palouse Water Conservation Network and the Palouse Group of Sierra Club, challenged the State’s decision.

The State’s Pollution Control Hearings Board, the first stop in challenging water right decisions, sided with the state agency and state university in its 2008 ruling. With water levels still dropping, conservationists appealed the decision. Because of the statewide significance for groundwater supplies, conservationists requested their case be heard at the court’s highest levels. Instead, for the past five years, the Cornelius vs. WSU has been slowly moving through the lower courts – until now.

Tribes, water utilities, and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy have filed amicus briefs with the state court.

Public interest water lawyer Rachael Paschal Osborn represents Scotty Cornelius, PWCN, and the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club. “People throughout Washington State who rely on groundwater may be impacted by how the Supreme Court decides the WSU golf course case,” said Osborn.

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Jan 16 2013

WA: Trust launches Dungeness exchange

Published by under Washington

Washington Water Trust launched the Dungeness Water Exchange on January 2. The Exchange has a dual mission of restoring flows to the mainstem Dungeness River and providing mitigation for new groundwater uses. Washington Water Trust has been working closely with basin partners since September of 2008 to assess, design and implement the Dungeness Water Exchange.

Mitigation for new water use is required under the new Dungeness Water Management Rule signed by Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant on November 16, 2012. The Exchange will have a local advisory board with invited representation from Clallam County, Department of Ecology, the Dungeness Water Users Association, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, City of Sequim, Clallam PUD No.1, Clallam Conservation District and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Initially, the Exchange will offer mitigation certificates for those with pending 2013 building permit applications within the effective area of the rule, and will work with Clallam County to set up a program that serves all other applicants in the first quarter of 2013. Mitigation applicants may choose between three mitigation packages.

A grant from Department of Ecology to Clallam County is available to reimburse the cost of domestic mitigation ($1,000) for applicants. To obtain mitigation, applicants may work either with Clallam County and the Dungeness Water Exchange. Applicants will provide basic information about their property and proposed new water use and choose the mitigation package that best suits their needs, or submit their own mitigation plan directly to the Department of Ecology. More detailed information will be available soon on Washington Water Trust’s Dungeness Water Exchange website.

The Dungeness Water Exchange is negotiating an agreement to purchase a portion of senior water rights held by the Dungeness Water Users Association. The Exchange has also developed a water management agreement that allows delivery of the purchased water to supply aquifer recharge projects in the Dungeness. In addition to providing mitigation water, these recharge projects will enhance stream flows in small streams and the Dungeness River. The Department of Ecology has provided start–up funding for these projects, which will provide mitigation for between 950-2,350 wells, for five to 50 years, depending on the amount and type of mitigation packages sold and the depth and location of new wells.

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Jan 14 2013

International: Agreement reached on cross-border lake

Published by under Canada,Washington

U.S. and Canadian authorities have reached an agreement with the state of Washington to renew and update joint operations of Osoyoos Lake, which straddles the two countries at Oroville, Wash. The State Department of Ecology owns and operates Zosel Dam, which controls lake levels and trans-border flows downstream from the outlet of Osoyoos Lake on the Okanogan River.

In signing the agreement, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire accepted the conditions and recommendations negotiated over the past several years between the International Joint Commission (IJC), Canada and United States. The agreement updates and renews orders established in 1982 to jointly manage lake levels for irrigation, flood control, drought and recreation. The agreement was due to expire Feb. 22, 2013.

New joint operations reflect seven years of study and public input and recommendations by the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control, established by the IJC in 1946 to ensure compliance and supervise cross-border operations of lake levels during both wet and dry years.

Gregoire said the work to update cross-border lake operations enables the state to continue to partner with British Columbia to operate and maintain the lake for the mutual benefit of homeowners, agriculture, tourism, fisheries and all concerned.

During normal years the lake elevation is held between a maximum elevation of 911.5 feet and a minimum elevation of 909.0 feet. However, under the new orders, during a drought year water may be stored to lake elevation as high as 912.5 feet, a reduction of one-half foot from the 1987 Order. Zosel Dam effectively controls the elevation of Osoyoos Lake except during periods of high snowmelt runoff when natural conditions often force the lake above elevation 913.0 feet.

The six-member International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control holds an annual meeting and reports to the International Joint Commission each fall. Monthly reports of daily lake levels and flows are kept by the board to document compliance with agreement orders.

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Dec 17 2012

WA: New water right issuance plan tried in Chelan

Published by under Washington

Water may soon be available for new projects in the Wenatchee River Basin under a program being launched by the Washington Department of Ecology and Chelan County Department of Natural Resources.

Letters have been sent to 150 water right applicants inviting them to participate in a fee-based program designed to expedite the processing of their request for water. The program provides applicants the option to reimburse Ecology for hiring a state-approved contractor to process pending water right applications.

Chelan County and local municipal water purveyors are the first to take advantage of legislation passed in 2010 allowing batches of water rights to be processed under a coordinated cost reimbursement program. The program will take advantage of a reservation of water set aside in the Wenatchee River for new uses.

“Our goal is to help resolve a backlog of new water right applications in part by accessing the reservation of water set aside in the Wenatchee Instream Flow Rule,” explained Mike Kaputa, Chelan County Natural Resources director. “Many of these purveyors have existing applications in line waiting to be processed, and the Wenatchee basin as a whole will benefit from increased economic development as a result of making this water available as intended when the instream flow rule was updated in 2007.”

Contractors will do the groundwork needed to identify what impact a new water withdrawal might have in the basin and whether water is available without harming another user’s rights – tests that must be met for water rights to be issued in a basin. Final approval rests with Ecology.

Participation in the program is optional. Those that don’t participate will keep their place in line, while others may move forward with their application.

“The four cubic-feet-per-second reservation provides opportunities for those eligible to gain new water rights until the reservation is depleted,” explained Kelsey Collins, a cost reimbursement project manager for Ecology. “Applicants also may be able to receive water rights using mitigation options other than the reserve on a case-by-case basis.”

Costs will depend on how many applicants participate, with fees being reduced if more people opt into the program. Cost estimates range from $5,000 to $15,000 per application, depending on the number of applicants and the scope of their application.

“By processing an entire basin, we believe that the cost per application will be lower than if an individual stepped forward to have a right processed alone,” Kaputa said.

Applicants are asked to indicate their interest in the program by Jan. 25, 2013. More information will be available this spring, following outreach to the applicants.

As initiators of the coordinated cost-reimbursement process for the Wenatchee Basin, Chelan County selected Aspect Consulting, LLC (Aspect) as Ecology’s pre-qualified consultant to lead the project. Those with questions may contact Bill Sullivan at 509- 888-5766 or email at More information is available online.

Reduced funding levels for water right-processing, increased legal complexities and growing competition for limited water resources has slowed Ecology’s efforts to address water right applications statewide. Cost-reimbursement provides the agency with more tools to manage water rights processing.

“This provides a new way to process water rights that achieves economic benefits for the Wenatchee area and protects streamflows in the Wenatchee River,” said Mark Kemner, Ecology water resources manager in Yakima.

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Dec 03 2012

WA: Benton County evaluation nears

Published by under Washington

Applicants for new water rights in a sub-basin of the Yakima River that includes the areas of West Richland, Richland and Badger Canyon in Benton County are being sent reminders by the Washington Department of Ecology that they have until Dec. 14, 2012, to indicate how they’d like their request to be processed.

In September, letters were sent to about 150 applicants for new ground and surface water permits in the area known as Sub-basin 31. So far, the agency has received responses from about one-third of the applicants in Benton County.

The requests for water are among those being evaluated now that a United States Geological Survey (USGS) study of the Yakima basin’s complex hydrology is complete. Water requests in the Moxee and Wide Hollow sub-basins were the first to be considered since the report’s release in the fall of 2011.

An administrative hold on issuing new water rights has been in place due to historic water shortages and concerns that authorizing new groundwater pumping would only worsen the total water supply in the basin.

Applicants are asked to consider a number of options to help the agency in making permit decisions about their proposed water use in the context of study results. Declining aquifers will make it difficult to approve water rights in some areas. In others, new uses may be approved if applicants receive coverage under an existing senior water right to offset or mitigate the expected impacts of a new withdrawal on the river and senior users.

Some may want to consider mitigation options, while others may want to move forward with the request as is. Some applicants may no longer own the property for which the water requests were made and those applications may be assigned to new landowners. If that is the case, land owners need to contact Ecology so new owners may be given an opportunity to decide what to do about the water request.

Those with questions, may contact Teresa Mitchell at 509-575-2597, or Sage Park at, 509-454-7647.

The decade-long study conducted by the USGS indicates pumping from underground aquifers draws water from the river and contributes to surface water shortages in the basin. The impacts are particularly felt in July and August when senior water right holders such as irrigators and fisheries need it most. The information in the study reinforces that ground and surface waters in the basin must be managed as one resource.

It also provides the scientific information to identify when and by how much a new water withdrawal is reducing the total water supply. This can be useful for achieving mitigation to offset the impacts of new water permits.

The request for the groundwater study and model was part of a settlement with the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation resulting from appeals of several dozen groundwater permits Ecology issued in 1993 in the Moxee Basin. In those appeals, both the Yakamas and Reclamation claimed new groundwater pumping intercepted surface water supplies and threatened fisheries and their more senior water rights.

More information is available at:

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