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Washington Issues First Non-Interruptible Water Rights From Columbia River Since Salmon Listings
Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 (PST)

The Washington Department of Ecology has approved the first water rights for municipal, domestic and industrial purposes from the Lake Roosevelt storage pool behind Grand Coulee Dam under the state’s Columbia River water development program.


And dozens more are being prepared for release in 2012.


The city of Pateros will receive 40 acre-feet (13 million gallons) of additional water per year to use for parks that will free up other city water rights and allow for new hookups supporting up to 80 new homes, the state agency announced Tuesday.


“We’ve had an application in since 1993 for additional water rights,” Gail Howe, mayor of Pateros, said. “This water will allow us to meet our needs now and in the future and also keep watering the parks that are an asset to our community. This is a win-win situation for the city of Pateros and our council is thrilled to have entered into a contract for this water.”


The Pateros water permit is just the first of a dozen new water rights to be issued this month in eastern Washington by Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. Totaling nearly 200 acre-feet of water, the permits are cued up to support housing developments in Lincoln County, a recreational park near the Beebe Bridge in Douglas County and a potato washing facility in Walla Walla County.


“It’s no question; water is the lifeblood of our communities in central and eastern Washington,” said Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee). “Towns like Pateros, Brewster and Bridgeport have been working to improve their water situation for years and I’m thrilled to see that the Columbia River basin water management legislation we passed in 2006 is helping ensure that water will be available to them in the future.”


The water will be made available by tapping into water stored in Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam as part of OCR's Lake Roosevelt Incremental Storage Release Project. In total, the program being carried out in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is making 25,000 acre-feet (8.1 billion gallons) of water per year available for new municipal and industrial uses. The Bureau owns and operates Grand Coulee.


Additionally, the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Storage Release Program is making available:


-- 30,000 acre-feet to support Odessa-area farmers, with water expected to be delivered starting in 2012.

-- 27,500 acre-feet of water for the OCR trust water program, which is to be released to increase in-stream flows at certain times of year salmon and steelhead need it most.


The program calls for another 50,000 acre-feet of water to be released during drought years, with 33,000 acre-feet of that providing relief for interruptible water right holders and 17,000 acre-feet supplementing in-stream flows.


Permits for the balance of that municipal and industrial water allocation water to be issued next year will benefit cities like Bridgeport, Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland, industrial users like Mercer Canyons, and small housing developments along the Columbia River in eastern Washington.


The WDOE announced Thursday that years of uncertainty surrounding water availability for Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland have been put to rest with the development of new water supplies through the OCR.


Final signatures sealed an agreement between the four cities and the state agency securing water for new domestic, municipal and industrial growth in the region.


The agreement ends a decade of legal disputes and provides a pathway for Ecology to deliver uninterruptible water rights to the four cities.


“We’re moving beyond past disagreements and looking to a bright future in the lower Columbia Basin where competition for water has been fierce for the last two decades,” said Derek Sandison, director of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “Cities can grow, industries can flourish and water can be available in the river when fish need it most.”


Sandison the agreement is the product of dozens of meetings, collaboration on new water permits, and funding of infrastructure projects that help improve regional water supply. 


“The quad-cities and the Department of Ecology weren’t in a good place 10 years ago. Today, we see Ecology’s OCR as a willing partner helping us meet the city’s water supply needs,” said Pete Rogalsky, public works director for the city of Richland.


Under the new agreement, the Columbia River program will supply up to 4,014 acre-feet, or about 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, to offset new water use by the four cities.


When fully developed, the 4,014 acre-feet of water could lead to quad-cities development supporting 6,500 jobs across Washington, $485 million in new residential tax base, and $65.4 million in new commercial tax base, according to the WDOE.


“These water rights are jumpstarting the dreams that were put on hold while we were fighting over water,” said Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. “Today, the farmer, fish biologist, environmental advocate, county commissioner and tribal member are sitting around the same table and helping us to find ways to meet the many water needs of eastern Washington. It’s a testament to the can-do spirit of our state.”


The Lake Roosevelt permits are the first non-interruptible water rights to be issued on the Columbia River since the listings of salmon and steelhead species began nearly two decades ago. The first stock to be listed under the Endangered Species Act was Snake River sockeye, which were given endangered states in 1991. The fish ride the Columbia up and down from its confluence with the Snake to the Pacific. A total of 13 salmon and steelhead stocks, including Upper Columbia spring chinook and steelhead, are now protected under the ESA.


Attempts to issue water rights have stymied in legal battles until the passage of a compromise bill produced by the Washington Legislature in 2006 that provided funding for new water projects in eastern Washington.


“Earlier this summer we dedicated a pipeline to deliver water to Odessa farmers, now we’re fulfilling the needs of small developers, rural towns and industries up and down the river,” said Rep. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake). “It’s very encouraging to see new water permits being issued, as it’s very important for economic development in Eastern Washington.”


The OCR has been developing access to water through projects that balance the water needs of irrigated agriculture, growing communities and streamflows for fish.


“We’re not just delivering water, we’re delivering on a promise that supports our state’s economy, environmental values and quality of life,” Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said. “Legislators and leaders on both sides of the aisle took a risk that we could make this work. I can only hope we’ll continue to build on these successes in every corner of the state where water supply is contentious.”


Once the M&I water is fully allocated for residential and commercial use, it is projected to add 35,000 jobs and $3 billion in increased value to the economy.


The releases will lower Lake Roosevelt by an additional foot in normal water years and 1.8 feet during drought years.


In 2006, the Washington Legislature tasked the WDOE to aggressively seek out new water supplies for both in-stream and out-of-stream uses. The same legislation set up the Columbia River Basin Development Account and authorized $200 million to fund it. Ecology created the OCR to use these funds to develop new water supplies using storage, conservation, and voluntary regional water management agreements.


The Bureau on June 12, 2009, released its final environmental assessment and "Finding of No Significant Impact" for implementation of the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Storage Releases project. The document concluded that the drawing down of the reservoir by an additional 12 to 18 inches each year would not negatively affect the quality of the human environment or the natural resources in the affected area.


The EA analyzes the withdrawal of additional water beyond current operation from Lake Roosevelt to provide drought relief, boost municipal and industrial supply, provide a replacement for some of the groundwater used by irrigators in the Odessa Subarea and to improve in-stream flows below Grand Coulee Dam salmon and steelhead.


The goals are to provide more water in an area where the demand is much greater than the supply; provide a benefit for, particularly, migrating salmon and steelhead and take the pressure off a severely depleted Odessa aquifer. The plan was vetted by both the WDOE and Bureau.


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