Reducing Washington State Drought Impacts in the Okanogan River Basin

In both the northern reaches, high desert region, and even the Olympic Peninsula—literally one of the wettest places in the lower 48 states historically—summer 2019 is a serious drought year in Washington State. Earlier this spring, the governor declared a drought emergency, which was able to unlock emergency relief options and funding for 27 watersheds across the entire state. In the Methow, Okanogan, and upper Yakima River watersheds, it’s particularly bad. Based on current forecasting, the Okanogan is expected to be at 58 percent of normal, and curtailment notification letters have already been sent to local water users. However, this drastic forecast has prompted forward thinking. 

In partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District (OTID) has developed a “water bank” in the Okanogan River basin to help regional water users impacted by the drought. The water bank will be used to support instream flows and to assist “junior” water users during periods of curtailment. OTID is seeding the bank with two of its senior water rights. In 2018, Ecology, with assistance from Aspect, certified these water rights through the state’s Certified Water Right Examiner process. 

Ecology is working to complete the required permitting to place the water rights in the state’s Trust Water Right Program (TWRP) to create the water bank (read more about water banks on Ecology’s website). This water bank will be seeded with about 7,500 acre feet of water, which will be made available for drought relief. From this bank, eligible water users can “withdraw” water for both irrigation and municipal or domestic uses.

 More information can be found at the following website:

https://www.aspectconsulting.com/otidwaterbank

The State’s Longest-Running Water Rights Adjudication is Coming to an End

In 1977, James J. Acquavella’s name was listed first on the summons when Ecology filed a petition for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for surface water in the Yakima River Basin – birthing the Ecology v. James Acquvella, et al water rights case. Forty-two years and 2,500 claimants and interested parties later, it is coming to a close. Some takeaways for this milestone moment in Washington state water management are:

  • Starting in 1977, the Department of Ecology v. Acquavella adjudication is the longest-running general adjudication in state history, determining the validity and establishing priority of surface water claims in the Yakima Basin.

  • With the issuance of the Final Decree by Yakima County Superior Court, water right holders in the Yakima Basin will finally have certainty over the authorized quantities and purposes and places of use of their water right claims.

  • Adjudicated water right certificates will be issued by Ecology for all claims determined by the Court to be valid; water right holders will no longer need to get approval of the Court to complete a change or transfer a water right, but instead file applications with Ecology like everywhere else in the State.

  • During the adjudication, stakeholders in the Yakima Basin continued to lead the state in providing innovative approaches to water resource management challenges, including early adoption of water banking and mitigation markets to ease permitting of new water rights, and development and implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Aspect has worked on a variety of Aquavella claims over the decades – including hundreds of due diligence water right evaluations; helping buyers/sellers move and change these rights; and developing water banks through the State’s Trust Water Right Program to support efficient transfer of existing rights and permitting of new, mitigated water rights.

Read the fascinating tale of water management in the Yakima River Basin and the implications of this ruling in this great Department of Ecology blog post.

See what else Aspect’s Water Resources practice has been up to.

Learn about Washington Water Law

Aspect’s water law expert, Dan Haller, will be presenting on Water Banking for Agricultural Water Supplies at the 27th Annual Water Law in Washington conference (June 14-15). This year’s conference focuses on major legislative changes, new case law, and important practical information for water rights and resource management in the State of Washington.

Water Banking in the West

Water banking is increasingly being looked at as an innovative approach to storing and releasing water in water-challenged areas of the West. In May’s issue of The Water Report, Aspect’s Dan Haller wrote an in-depth look at water banking in Washington state, how it compares to the rest of the West, and what recent legislative changes mean for the successful adoption of this water supply tool. Click below to read the article. 

Skagit PUD and County Explore Solutions for Legal Water Availability

The Skagit River - Photo Credit: www.rivers.gov

The Skagit River - Photo Credit: www.rivers.gov

In the face of growing development in rural areas across Washington state and limitations on legal water availability stemming from recent court decisions, public agencies like Skagit Public Utility District and Skagit County are wrestling with how to supply water to rural areas.

Potential homeowners, builders, state officials, and tribes are looking for solutions that are agreeable for the community and habitat, and that overcome legal constraints on water availability. A number of solutions are under consideration, including water banking, instream flow augmentation, and storage and release projects. Aspect is at the forefront of water banking facilitation and other rural solutions to address water availability across the state. For example, we’ve helped several private and public entities – including Kittitas and Spokane Counties -- successfully set up a water bank.

Aspect's Dan Haller and Carl Einberger are working with Skagit County PUD to evaluate what this would mean for the County and PUD. They recently joined a combined commissioner meeting with the Skagit County PUD and Skagit County to explore the concept and take questions from the Board.

See their discussion on video here.

Aspect's Dan Haller Presenting on Water Law, Water Banking, and Water Rights - 9/28 & 9/29

Washington Public Utility District Association Conference - 9/28

On day two of this year’s WPUDA conference in Leavenworth, Aspect’s Dan Haller will be participating on a morning session panel titled “What’s a Water Bank and How Does it Work?” During the afternoon sessions, Dan will be giving a Water Rights 101 presentation.  Public Utility District's manage numerous water rights over domestic systems, dams, hatcheries, and Parks, which put them in a unique position to participating water Banks to accomplish their overall District. Protecting District water rights is a key priority to ensure they are available for multiple District business needs.

Yakima County Bar Association - 9/29

Dan will be giving a presentation on the Hirst decision and how it affects Eastern Washington water rights to the Yakima County Bar Association September 29th. The Hirst decision changed the regulatory framework of County rural building permit and land use policies and is prompting numerous changes from new regulations, moratoriums on building, creation of water Banks, and water write transactions.

The State of Water Banking in Washington -- Aspect at Law Seminar International

Aspect's Dan Haller will be presenting on the practical implentation issues of Water Banking in Washington State at Law Seminars International on Tuesday July 25 in Seattle.

With water policy presently in the forefront of the state's political arena, water managers across the state are hunting for better solutions to manage water supply. Water banking is a relatively young but promising water policy approach that builds a framework, based in science, of transferring and using water across a municipality.

Water banking has promise because it's better at solving one-to-many water authority issues than traditional water transfers and can be more advantageous under the water code than traditional transfer.

Dan will be presenting alongside Peter H. Dykstra, with Plauche and Carr LLP and Kristina Nelson-Gross with the City of Sequim.

300 Spokane Residents Turn Out to Hear About Hirst Water Rights Decision

Aspect’s Dan Haller and Carl Einberger helped Spokane County (County) officials present on the relevance of the "Hirst" Decision to a packed public meeting on May 19th. Over 300 local residents showed up to hear the County and Aspect go over:

  • The context that led up to the Hirst decision, including some understanding of the evolving interpretations of Washington State water rights law;
  • The role of watershed planning and hydrogeology studies in the Little Spokane basin;
  • Why the County has been proactively planning to implement a water bank; and
  • How a water bank works.

As counties across the state continue to grapple with the implications of Hirst and what it means for property owners and developers in rural areas, Aspect expects public outreach efforts to continue to help guide the conversation over this evolving topic and legislation.

Kittitas County: Leading the Charge on Water Banking

On April 12, Aspect’s Dan Haller will co-present with Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell on the future of Kittitas County Water Resource Management. Kittitas County has been at the heart of the state’s recent water banking approach with the most mature and heralded water bank in Washington. Over the past 10 years, they went from the staunchest opponent to exempt well management to the unquestioned leader in the State, with broad state, local, and tribal endorsement of their transformation.

Over the years, Aspect has helped the County develop the program, including an innovative "over the counter" water rights program.

The presentation will be at the Starlight Lounge in Ellensburg and hosted by the Washington Chapter of the American Water Resources Association (AWRA).

For more details and to register click here.

The Story of Washington State's Water Future

Aspect Consulting partnered with Washington State University, the University of Utah, and Ecology’s Office of Columbia River to develop the 2016 Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast.  From climate change to crop change, from municipal growth to hydropower demand, from water banking to declining groundwater, this report tells the story of how Washington is changing in response to a myriad of physical, economic, and legal challenges facing the State.  Over 2 years in the making, the report represents a comprehensive look at where Washington is going in the next 20 years and beyond.

The Need for Water Banking

A recent Washington State Supreme Court ruling has changed how counties review permit-exempt (household) wells for building permits under the Growth Management Act. This ruling states that counties cannot approve new development using permit-exempt wells if there would be impairment to instream flows or impact to closed water bodies. The Yakima Herald-Republic looks at how the recent Supreme Court ruling affects water rights in Kittitas County.  Aspect’s Dan Haller is quoted on how water banks are currently in place and can work beyond the Yakima Basin. You can read the article here.

Source: SOFIA JARAMILLO/Yakima Herald-Republic

Source: SOFIA JARAMILLO/Yakima Herald-Republic