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Washington DOE Proposes Water Rights Changes, Includes Revisions To “Use It Or Lose It”
Posted on Friday, February 04, 2011 (PST)

The Washington Department of Ecology is asking the 2011 Legislature for authority to reform and improve the way water resources are managed in Washington state for the benefit of current and future water users and the natural environment.


Agency-request bills, HB 1610 (introduced by Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen) and SB 5536 (introduced by Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island) seek ways to make Ecology’s water management services more effective and efficient.


“Water is essential to every facet of our quality of life, and we need to modernize the way we manage it,” said Ted Sturdevant, Ecology director. “We already see more demand than supply all across the state, and that will only increase with population growth and declining snowpack from climate change. To manage this most essential but finite resource across competing and ever-increasing needs will require streamlined laws and processes, and the tools to do the job. This bill is a good start in that direction.”


A key to the agency-request bills is legislative authority for Ecology to recover the full cost of processing water right applications. Currently only 2 percent of the cost of processing water right applications is paid by applicants. The other 98 percent of the processing costs are funded by the taxpayers through the General Fund. These funds rise or fall based on tax collections, and in recent years, budget cuts and staff reductions have contributed to an already growing backlog of water right applications. The result is that permits for job-creating projects slow at a time when the economy needs them most.


HB 1610 and SB 5536 ask the Legislature to approve a “beneficiary pays” funding system whereby 100 percent of the cost of processing a water right application would be paid by the applicant.


Ecology says it is also streamlining the water right application process and becoming more efficient in collecting and providing access to data for the water rights portfolio of more than 250,000 certificates, permits and claims that the agency manages in Washington state.


Other major reforms in the agency-request bills include:


-- Legislative authority allowing Ecology to reduce the daily limit on permit-exempt groundwater use in water-short basins. This would allow Ecology to protect senior water rights and stream flows without closing entire watersheds to new groundwater withdrawals.

-- Revisions in the state’s “use it or lose it” relinquishment law to support water conservation efforts by allowing irrigators to switch to less water intensive crops without fear of losing all or part of their water rights.

-- Amendments to state law extending grants to watershed planning groups to implement locally developed water management plans across Washington state.


“This bill continues an important conversation around how the state of Washington manages our limited water resources,” said Blake, the House sponsor. “I know we must continue to effectively manage water for our economy and our natural resources to reach their potential. I’m excited to pursue this conversation.”


Rockefeller, the Senate sponsor, said the bill “starts a new chapter in how our state manages its precious water resources.”


“The bill encourages significant water rights processing reforms like shifting payments from taxpayers to those who benefit from certification and protecting these very valuable rights,” Rockefeller said.


For the complete text of HB 1610 and SB 5536 and fact sheets on Ecology’s proposed legislation, please visit the Water Smart Washington Water Management Reform webpage.


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