State mandates water metering, reporting
RESOURCES: Move seeks to determine usage in 16 river basins considered critical to endangered fish.

The Bellingham Herald and the Associated Press

Olympia, WA - April 4, 2002 - The state Department of Ecology has begun ordering as many as 1,000 water users, including several in Whatcom County, to begin measuring withdrawals and reporting the results.

Targeted basins

The 16 river basins being targeted by the state Department of Ecology for water metering and reporting:

 

Western Washington: Cedar-Sammamish; Chambers-Clover; Duwamish-Green; Elwha-Dungeness; Nooksack; Puyallup-White; Quilcene-Snow; and Snohomish.

 

Eastern Washington: Lower Yakima; Upper Yakima; Naches; Methow; Middle Snake; Okanogan; Walla Walla; and Wenatchee.

 

The regulations affect government agencies, industries, cities, irrigation districts and farms in 16 river basins considered critical to salmon and other endangered fish.

"This is going to help everybody manage one of Washington's most valuable resources, our water," Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said Wednesday from Olympia. "It will help us get an idea how much water is being used in these 16 basins."

The first of four batches of orders was sent April 1 to agencies that already meter their water - municipalities, public utility and irrigation districts and large farms, Hart said. Up to 1,000 users are to be notified by the end of the year.

It is the first time those users will be required to report four times a year how much water they are using.

The 10 largest water users of Nooksack River water which already meter their water - mostly municipalities and community water associations - have been sent notices this week to report their usage, Hart said. The Glen Community and Pole Road Water associations as well as Lynden, Sumas, Blaine, Everson and Ferndale were among those sent notices.

Another 22 Nooksack River water users, including other water associations and farmers, will be sent notices in June alerting them of the need to meter their water and report their usage.

"The next question is, what do we do with that data?" Hart said. "We don't know. It may be we find people are using more water than their water right allows. We may say, 'You're not using all the water you're entitled to."'

The program will bring the state into compliance with water-rights rules adopted by the Legislature in 1993, Hart said.

Groups representing environmentalists and fishers sued Ecology in 1999 for failing to enforce those rules. To settle the lawsuit last year, Ecology agreed to monitor entities that draw 80 percent of the water in each watershed designated critical for endangered fish.

Katherine Ransel, senior counsel for American Rivers, the lead environmental group in the lawsuit, applauded the settlement.

"It's the only way you can hope to get the kind of information you need to make informed decisions about water allocation," she said. "This is the first step. Once you figure out where the problems are, then you can begin to change behaviors."

Hart noted the settlement exempts the majority of water users, including hundreds of thousands of houses and small farms served by wells.

Costs vary greatly for the measuring devices, which can be as sophisticated as those used by municipalities to bill customers monthly, or as primitive as a clicker device installed over a creek, Hart said. A requirement is that they be permanently installed, he said.

Measuring water use is nothing new in the Yakima Valley, where water rights are being adjudicated.

"We've been doing that generally," Don Schramm, with the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District, told the Yakima Herald-Republic. "We have excellent measurement and reporting. It will just be adding someone else to the mailing list."

There are eight watersheds on each side of the state. Generally, those on the east side serve irrigators, while those west of the Cascades face increasing pressure from urban development, Hart said.

The Legislature last year approved $3.4 million in grants to help users buy and install water meters to comply with the rules.

On March 29, Ecology sent 200 letters explaining the rules to water users that already have meters, such as the city of Kent, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Avista Corp. and Broughton Land Co., a large farm operation in Dayton.

Letters later this year will go to users who still need to install the instruments and might seek grants.

"We don't want to surprise anybody," Hart said. "We want to work with people to let them know the orders are coming. We are also lending technical assistance and helping provide money as well."


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