Central Wash. lawmakers sponsor bill to foster water banks

Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.February 1, 2014 

— The water bank being developed by Yakima County could get a boost from a bill that would allow counties to put local tax money toward buying water rights for the bank.

In Yakima and Kittitas counties, officials concerned with managing a limited water supply for the long term are setting up county-run water banks so that rural property owners will be able to buy senior water rights before drilling for domestic wells.

Sponsored by five Central Washington Republicans, House Bill 2596 would allow counties, where the water supply is considered overappropriated, to tap into sales-and-use tax money typically earmarked for public facilities and economic development. In Yakima County, these funds are known as SIED money, or Supporting Investments in Economic Development.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said that although the concept of water banking has been explored in different parts of the state in different ways, the state has never created a funding mechanism like this for counties to use.

“I understand our counties need to do something to move forward,” Chandler said. “I believe it’s an idea worth exploring.”

Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said the county had initially planned to use about $1 million of county SIED money to set up the water bank. But when the county’s legal team took a closer look at the vaguely written SIED regulations, they decided to seek legislative approval first.

“The legislation is asking for the opportunity to use SIED funds to solve this groundwater issue and promote rural economic development,” Leita said. “Most, if not all, would be paid back by the groundwater users over time.”

Chandler said he thought it was a prudent move for the Yakima County commissioners to seek legislation on the issue and he would have a better sense of the bill’s political prospects after its first hearing. The public hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources will be Tuesday afternoon.

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