The Washington Department of Ecology so far has issued 167 new permits for the withdrawal of artificially stored groundwater within the Quincy Groundwater Management Subarea near Moses Lake.
The 167 permits issued in the past seven years authorize the use of 35, 219 acre-feet of water that will boost the local economy by providing more farmable acreage, new industrial growth and support construction jobs.
According to an economic analysis conducted by Ecology, the 167 permits support development that could add $14.8 million to agricultural property values and $70 million to commercial land values in Grant County. These values benefit property owners and developers, and contribute to the local tax base. In the long-run, development could support at least 400 commercial construction and design jobs in Grant County, and indirectly support at least 360 additional jobs statewide.
The Quincy Subarea artificially stored groundwater program currently authorizes a total of 170,469 acre-feet of water with a market value estimated to be about $350 million. An acre foot equals 325,851 gallons of water.
Benefits of this effort are flowing to the communities of Ephrata, George, Moses Lake, Quincy and Warden and to the farms, vineyards and businesses of Grant County. Agricultural producers, domestic water users and major employers acquiring the permits have included Cochran Farms, Maiers Irrevocable Farming Trust, Weber Family Farms, Willard & Sherry Lange Farm, Dieringer Dairy, Cross B Estate Homeowner Association and Potholes Reservoir Golf & Camping.
“Processing these water rights has been a major effort of our staff, and we’re seeing the results,” said Keith Stoffel, Water Resources section manager of Ecology’s Eastern Region office. “We can see where this water works directly to add jobs, create new industry and get land back to production in this part of the state.”
Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake said: “Water is the lifeblood of our area, but also is the key to creating more economic opportunities. This is especially true for agriculture, which employs 160,000 people across Washington. I’m glad to see local growers, producers, towns and small businesses benefitting from these new water permits. I hope we can continue work to manage our water in a way that mutually benefits the economy and encourages conservation of water.”
The Quincy Subarea was delineated in 1969 by the Washington Legislature because the characteristics of the aquifer there necessitated a more involved permitting process. The Quincy Subarea contains a mixture of naturally occurring public groundwater and artificially stored groundwater, which is a result of irrigation from the federal government’s Columbia Basin Project.
Ecology manages the permits for the artificially stored groundwater in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Columbia Basin irrigation districts. Ecology administers the water permits, and those who receive them must enter into a federal water service contract and pay an annual fee to Reclamation. The permits are issued with a requirement that the water must be put to full use within three years.
Ecology and Reclamation began to reconcile and cross check each other’s records in 2004. As a result, it was determined that the quantity of artificially stored underground water authorized was less than 140,000 acre feet per year. The job of getting the remaining 37,000 acre feet of the artificially stored groundwater in the hands of area residents was set in motion.
Although the artificially-stored groundwater program currently authorizes a total of 170,469 acre-feet, Ecology is allowed by regulation to issue permits for as much as 177,000 acre-feet of water. To reach this limit, the partnership is processing the waiting list of applications. Once the limit is reached, future permits will depend on water being returned to the water storage program due to reductions or cancellations of existing permitted projects.