Washington's water rights exchange market is stagnant. This is a problem for Eastern Washington farmers who have land and an abundance of fresh water, yet have a difficult time buying and selling water rights.
This is amplified by the fact that the Department of Ecology is not issuing new water rights. If we want to continue to lead the nation in agriculture, we need a more fluid water market. Luckily, there may be an explanation for why the water market is flailing.
When a holder applies to sell his or her water rights, the water code threatens water rights relinquishment if all or part of the water rights has gone unused for five consecutive years, known as the beneficial use period. This occurs even if a water right holder has instituted efficiency measures that reduced their water usage more than five years ago.
If Ecology changes the beneficial use period to twenty years, farmers who have been water conservative and want to sell their water rights will be able to do so without fear of relinquishment. The hope is that farmers will be rewarded for using water efficiently and will feel encouraged when it comes time to sell their water.
KATHERINE HALLAIAN, Kennewick