Bill Would Kill Use-It-Or-Lose-It Provision - Would prevent Dept. of Ecology from forcing forfeiture of water rights



Olympia, WA - Washington's Ecology Department would lose the authority to impose the "use-it-or-lose-it" provision of state water law under a bill that passed the state Senate late Thursday.

The bill's prospects in the state House are uncertain. Jim Waldo, Gov. Gary Locke's water adviser, and a number of environmental groups testified against the bill.

Substitute Senate Bill 5025, which passed by a 33-16 vote, would prevent the Ecology Department from forcing the forfeiture of water rights that have not been put to "beneficial" or good use in agriculture, commerce or municipal consumption.

So-called relinquishment occurs when water has not been used for a period of five years or longer. The water right then reverts to the state.

Sponsor Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, said the bill would require Ecology to seek court approval to take that step.

"The relinquishment issue is a major problem for agriculture," Honeyford said. "The use-it-or-lose-it approach does not conserve water."

Testimony on the bill from supporters said the provision encourages water-rights owners to use water regardless of whether they need it out of fear of losing it to the state.

Opponents argue the bill could have "unintended negative consequences" to other users by reducing stream flows and discouraging water planning and management.

Other water measures sent to the House by the Senate include:

* SSB 5028, prohibits the Ecology Department from taking water-quality enforcement action against water right holders. Supporters said the current definition of pollution turns ordinary citizens into polluters for showering, washing and running tap water.

"We need to separate water quantity and water quality issues. A water right should be independent of water quality concerns," said Honeyford.

* SSB 5077, exempting certain withdrawals of water for livestock.

* SSB 5086, changing appeal procedures for water-related actions by Ecology. Supporters say it would speed up judicial review of Ecology water-right decisions.

* SSB 5023, allows a well to be moved, or an additional well to be brought into operation, at a new location. Certain conditions apply.

* SSB 5027, establishes the fourth and final step in the watershed planning process implementation. The bill outlines funding mechanisms and provides a guarantee of involvement for local citizens and governments.


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