Water Woes as District Goes to Court Over Water Rights
A motion filed in Yakima County Superior Court argues those rights — totaling about 200 — are junior to the project's May 1905 right.
The list includes the city of Roslyn, summer cabin owners, nonprofit camps, permanent residents and ranchers north of Yakima that are outside project boundaries.
Western water law requires that the most recent rights — called junior — be halted during a shortage so older rights can have the water.
A shortage is a given this year with the project's junior users anticipated to receive 70 percent of a full supply.
The Roza Irrigation District, itself a junior user compared to water rights in existence before the 460,000-acre project was formed, filed the motion as a part of the basin water rights case. Other project users with junior rights are supporting the motion, said Roza attorney Tom Cowan of Richland.
Cowan said junior users in the project are paying to store water in reservoirs and that water shouldn't be going to users with rights junior to the those of the project.
"We pay for the storage. It's tough for us to pay for operation and maintenance and have people take the water that is being released for our use," he said.
Judge Pro Tem Walter Stauffacher, who has overseen the massive water rights case since it began in 1977, will hear arguments on the motion on June 10.
Stauffacher has the authority to regulate water use.
The case seeks to establish an amount and priority date for all surface water used in Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties.
It was Stauffacher who ordered a similar shutdown in 2001 during the worst drought on record. Junior users that year received 37 percent of a full supply.
The state Ecology Department enforced the order and reported no violations, agency spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said Wednesday.
Department of Ecology officials estimate potentially affected rights amount to 200 cubic feet per second of water, or 400 acre-feet on a daily basis.
This time, the Roza motion asks for a permanent order limiting junior rights whenever a shortage exists in the project. The 2001 order was for that year only.
Also, the motion does not propose exemptions for some users, such as nonprofit summer camps operated by the YMCA and the Boy Scouts as was the case in 2001.
Cowan said water law provides no such exemptions. Those users, he said, have had ample time to purchase senior water rights to cover their needs.
Roslyn has obtained water transfers to meet its municipal irrigation needs this summer.
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