Come January, new rural domestic wells in unincorporated areas of Yakima County will cost landowners $1,150 in connection permits and meter installation fees in addition to routine service and consumption fees.
On Tuesday, Yakima County officials unveiled to a dozen builders, lenders and real estate agents details about the county’s water utility, a plan intended to ensure enough water for rural development well into the future.
Until now, rights to most domestic well water was considered to be the property owner’s. But water rights to any future domestic wells belong to the county under a program to assure development can occur without risking legal challenges.
In addition to the one-time permitting and hookup and metering fees, landowners would pay a $35 quarterly service fee as well as annual consumption fees based on the amount of water used.
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The average annual consumption cost would be about $177 a year based on 460 gallons a day, which is the typical consumption of a family, according to county Public Services Director Vern Redifer.
The rate is well below what most municipalities charge, Redifer said.
Joe Walsh, government affairs director for the Central Washington Home Builders Association, likes the plan.
“It sounds like it’s something that people can work with,” he said after the presentation. “Property owners that want a rural lifestyle out in the country can still afford that. It’s not a tremendous burden cost-wise.”
It’s no secret water in the county is overallocated, and senior water rights holders have long worried about the impact exempt rural domestic wells are having on their water availability.
Exempt wells are those that draw less than 5,000 gallons per day to serve homes, small businesses, noncommercial lawns, gardens and livestock.
Until now, these wells have been exempt from requiring a water rights permit.
Problems with the overallocation of water stemming from too many exempt wells severely impacted Kittitas County, where a moratorium was enacted on new rural domestic wells after senior water rights holders sued the county, saying they were hurt by a proliferation of exempt wells.
In effort to avoid such a situation here, Yakima County leaders, environmentalist, and the largest senior rights water holders in the area — including the Yakama Nation and the Bureau of Reclamation — began meeting to devise a water plan.
Part of that is the county’s water utility, or the Yakima County Water Resource System. Under the system, the county purchases senior water rights and used them for rural development.
The county has acquired enough senior water rights to allow for 100 homes to be built a year for the next 10 years, Redifer said.
Commissioners expect to adopt an ordinance establishing the water utility by December with implementation beginning in January.
“This is about water security and avoiding any future lawsuits because we'll lose,” Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said. “The handwriting is on the walls.”