Washington adopts rule on Kittitas County water

Capital Press / AP

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- New groundwater withdrawals will only be allowed in upper Kittitas County if they are backed by senior water rights, until a groundwater study of the area is completed, the Washington state Department of Ecology decided on Wednesday in adopting a permanent rule.

The rule marks the latest step in a dispute between state and local officials over the availability of water east of the Cascades.

Last year, Ecology imposed a temporary moratorium on wells that are exempt from a permit. These so-called exempt wells are allowed under the state groundwater code of 1945, at a rate of up to 5,000 gallons per day, for small industrial uses or domestic uses. An unlimited amount of water from exempt wells may also be used to water livestock and for noncommercial watering of a half-acre lawn or garden.

Ecology argued the water being drawn by new developments in the area could impair water supplies for irrigators with senior water rights downstream and weaken streamflows for threatened and endangered fish.

The two sides have been negotiating in the months since without success.

"We did everything in our power to try to find a compromise, and when we couldn't, we felt this was the prudent move to take to protect the resource," said Tom Tebb, Ecology's regional director in Yakima.

A federal study in central Washington's arid Yakima River basin showed groundwater pumping significantly reduces streamflows in the river, raising questions about the state's ability to issue new groundwater permits there without mitigating for the river's lost water going forward.

No new groundwater permits have been issued in the basin in nearly 20 years.

But near the river's headwaters in Kittitas County, less is known about the relationship between groundwater and surface water. The U.S. Geological Survey has been commissioned to complete a study of the area by September 2013.

Ecology said Wednesday the new rule would remain in place at least until then.

Kittitas County stretches from Snoqualmie Pass through the east slope of the Cascades to Ellensburg. Development in the area has grown in recent years.

Paul Jewell, vice chairman of the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners, said his county hasn't grown any faster in the last five to 10 years than Yakima County, which is larger.

"So if you look at the real impact of water withdrawals, it certainly isn't upper Kittitas County," he said.

Jewell also said other counties would be foolish not to be aware of the new rule.

"It's a game changer for most communities, especially those rural communities that have land that doesn't necessarily have access to a municipal or other group-type water system," he said. "We should all be watching it pretty closely."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.



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State adopts Kittitas Co. water ruleĀ 


From the Yakima Herald-Republic Online News.

Posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010

YAKIMA, WA -- The Department of Ecology on Wednesday made official previous announcements that new groundwater withdrawals in upper Kittitas County will be allowed only if they are offset, or mitigated, by other actions, such as using water rights that have been set aside as reserves.

"We're trying to manage water in a way that protects water users and allows ongoing development," Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said in a news release announcing he has signed a permanent water-management rule.

"People, farms and fish depend on these surface waters for their survival."

The rule is meant to protect those who hold senior water rights for irrigation and fish runs. It will remain in place until the U.S. Geological Survey completes a groundwater study in September 2013.

Meanwhile, Kittitas County housing and business developers are securing senior water rights through private water banks. The rights allow new water connections for individual or shared wells or small water systems. Ecology has approved more than 1,270 new connections since June.

The program stemmed from an emergency Ecology rule in July 2009, instituted over the protest of Kittitas County officials. The rule halted new groundwater withdrawals in Upper Kittitas County, west of Indian John Hill unless the negative effect on senior water rights could be offset.