Water withdrawals to be metered

January 2001

By Ginger Vanderpool, Staff Writer
American Rivers

The Washington State Department of Ecology has been ordered to implement a 1993 statute that establishes water use metering as the agency’s top water enforcement priority. In his December 6, 2000 ruling, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hick’s noted that dried up streams and hostile conditions resulting from water withdrawals are a major cause of the decline of salmon in the Northwest. The judge sided with a coalition of environmental and fishing groups that say metering provides both immediate and long-term benefits for endangered salmon and that further delay in implementing the statute may result in a decline in wild salmonids.

The state law requires those who use large amounts of water and those who take water from waterways where salmon stocks are depressed or critical to install meters or other measurement devices. New holders of water rights or permits are also required to install meters. The primary focus at the trial focused on the Washington State Legislature’s failure to provide adequate funding over the past seven years to implement the metering statute and still continue with its water planning and enforcement responsibilities. Starting with massive cuts to Ecology’s water resources program budget in 1994, the legislature has failed to provide the necessary funds for the department to fully enforce the law.

The court’s decision also acknowledged the importance of other types of enforcement by the Department of Ecology, especially stopping the illegal use of water by persons who have no water right permit. The court gave Ecology 3 months to develop a plan for how the agency would prioritize implementation of the metering statute and continue its other enforcement work in the 16 watersheds that are most severely impacted by the overuse of water.

The environmental and fishing groups who brought the lawsuit point out that metering has been endorsed by and benefits water users who follow the law. “Everyone agrees that sound and sustainable water management is impossible without measuring water use, especially in basins that are already overallocated. Yakima basin irrigators long ago endorsed universal water metering. This ruling paves the way for Washington State to bring its water management systems into the 21st century.” said Katherine Ransel of American Rivers.


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