State to consider water right requests in Richland, W. Richland, Badger Canyon

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 18, 2012 

Washington state is set to begin considering water right applications for Yakima River Basin water in parts of Richland, West Richland and Badger Canyon.

The Washington State Department of Ecology halted work toward decisions on requests for new groundwater permits in Benton, Yakima and Kittitas counties in 1999, waiting until it learned more about how pumping from wells affected the Yakima River and its tributaries.

It's been more than 30 years since the state issued new surface water rights for the Yakima River Basin.

The Department of Ecology is restarting the evaluation of applications by sending letters to about 150 applicants for ground and surface water permits in the area know as sub-basin 31 in Benton County. A response is required by Dec. 13 on how they want their water right applications processed.

It's unlikely that water rights will be approved unless applicants can provide a plan of mitigation. In most cases, the mitigation plan would need to show an equal amount of Yakima River Basin water will not be used elsewhere if the application for new water use is approved.

In addition, declining aquifers will make it difficult to approve water rights in some areas, according to the Department of Ecology.

A U.S. Geological Survey study completed a year ago showed that pumping from underground aquifers reduces stream flows and contributes to surface water shortages.

The effects are felt particularly in July and August when senior water right holders need it the most. Those with senior water rights are typically irrigators and fisheries.

The results of the study reinforced that groundwater and surface water need to be managed as one water resource, and the study's scientific information is being used to evaluate new water right requests.

Existing surface water rights already include more water than is available, according to the state.

After the U.S. Geological Survey study was completed, the state started evaluating water right requests in the Moxee and Wide Hollow sub-basins of the Yakima River Basin, sending letters to those who had applied for new water rights there.

Almost all who responded withdrew their requests or said they would put their requests on hold while they explored possibilities for mitigation.

In addition to those options, the Richland, West Richland and Badger Canyon applicants also can choose to have their application processed as submitted, assign it to another person if they no longer own the property or provide a mitigation plan to offset the impacts of their proposed use on the Yakima River or nearby creeks.

Mitigation options include finding a willing seller of Yakima River Basin water rights or participating in a water banking program that would be established.

It also could include formally retiring surface water rights by putting them in trust with the state to allow that water right owner to be considered for new water use.

"We know people have been waiting a long time to learn the status of their water right requests," water resources manager Mark Kemner, said in a statement. "We want to encourage applicants to contact us if they have questions and we'll help walk them through this process."

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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