Water banking in Kittitas County is allowing residential development on lands that had no historic water rights for domestic use. Water banks are also offsetting out-of-priority water use by camps and cabin owners and supporting construction work on Interstate 90 (I-90).
Enough water for approximately 1,400 new homes and 73 acres of outdoor irrigation has been authorized since the Department of Ecology (Ecology) began issuing the first water banking decisions in April 2010 for upper Kittitas County where groundwater use is regulated.
“A few years ago, ‘water banking,’ ‘mitigation water’ and ‘water-right transfers’ were foreign concepts to many people,” said Mark Kemner, Ecology’s water resources manager in Yakima. “Now we’re seeing a robust water market that’s allowing for growth and providing protection against impairing the rights of downstream water users.”
At least three new water banks are poised to come online in early 2012 that will serve areas including Lake Kachess, the Teanaway Basin and Fowler Creek, Kemner said.
Existing water banks include Suncadia, Northland Resources, Swiftwater LLC, Starkovich, Yakima Mitigation Water Services, and Swauk Basin all in upper county; Reecer Creek (SC Aggregate), Manastash Creek (Williams and Amerivest) both in lower county.
Like a personal bank account, water banks must have deposits to back up withdrawals. Existing senior water rights are transferred into a bank (deposits) and made available as mitigation to offset impacts from new groundwater uses (withdrawals). The amount of mitigation water available in the bank at any given time is the account balance.
It is projected that more than $75 million will be added to the economy and 800 jobs supported statewide when all the domestic water in the existing banks is allocated and serving fully built-out residential developments in Kittitas County.
Also, in 2011 Ecology acquired 60 acre-feet of mitigation water for camps and cabin owners located not only in upper Kittitas County but throughout the greater Yakima Basin where surface water rights may be turned off by court order during years of drought. The water is available to offset the consumptive use of some 132 water users whose rights are junior to the Yakima Basin Irrigation Project.
Water banks can be used for purposes other than domestic water supplies. For example, the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) water bank is offsetting impacts to water supplies during highway expansion and upgrades along I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass that began during the summer of 2010.
Unmitigated withdrawals are taxing an already over-committed water supply in the Yakima Basin, threatening the rights of senior water right holders and harming the basin’s water-dependent economy and fish runs. Protecting these resources preserves the $1.5 billion agricultural economy in Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties.
New groundwater uses in upper Kittitas County are not allowed unless backed by a senior water right and no new unmitigated water rights have been issued in the entire Yakima Basin (from Snoqualmie Pass to Benton City) for more than a decade. Water banking provides opportunities for development by moving existing water rights to new uses under a market-based model.