Quad-cities water right pact reached

State officials and the Tri-Cities and West Richland have reached an agreement on getting Pasco the water it needs now and the water the other cities will need in the future.

Officials say the new pact will put to rest a decade of disputes over theso-called quad-cities water right from the Columbia River.

The water rights from the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Release Program will be noninterruptible, which means that even when a drought is declared, the cities can continue to use that water, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, communication manager for the Department of Ecology in Yakima.

They are the first noninterruptible water rights that have been issued in two decades.

Through the Columbia River program, Ecology officials are working to develop new water rights for out-of-stream use while setting aside water to support stream flows.

Redfield-Wilder said the goal is to eliminate the fight over water.

Water from the Lake Roosevelt drawdown will allow the department to meet the obligations it has to the Tri-Cities and West Richland in a 2003 settlement.

"It provides the cities certainty," she said. "They know (the water) is going to be there."

When the cities do their five-year water supply analysis, they can work the new Columbia River water into their plans, Redfield-Wilder said.

And as the Tri-Cities diversifies beyond Hanford, the cities will have the ability to provide water to industries that may replace Hanford jobs, she said.

The agreement will supply up to 1.3 billion gallons per year from Lake Roosevelt to offset the water the Tri-Cities and West Richland will take from the river.

The state estimates that water could lead to development in the Tri-Cities and West Richland, supporting 6,500 jobs in the state,$485 million in new homes and $65.4 million in new commercial construction.

"This is the type of cooperation between the Department of Ecology and the cities we should be seeing on a more regular basis," Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said in a news release.

The agreement will provide some of the water Pasco needs to fill the 1.2 billion-gallon gap between the water it has the right to use and what the city consumes on an annual basis.

"This represents a real milestone for us," said Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield.

Pasco currently is borrowing water from the other three cities. Under the new agreement, Crutchfield said the city will use only its share of water.

In the future, water from the regional right will be allocated on an as-needed basis, rather than in equal shares as in the first phase of the agreement, Crutchfield said.

Pasco plans to buy about 782.4 million gallons of water that was freed up when Ecology officials changed the amount of water they agree that cities return to the river.

That, and Bureau of Reclamation water the city applied for four months ago, would be enough to eliminate the water deficit, Crutchfield said.

Pasco also is receiving a $2.7 million grant from the Ecology department that will pay for a new, larger water intake on the west side of town and the extension of an irrigation water pipeline along Interstate 182 to Road 100.

Richland is using a little bit of its quad-cities water, but right now that water represents less than 1 percent of the city's annual use, said Pete Rogalsky, public works director.

The department also processed a ground water rights permit for Richland last summer for south of the Yakima River that Rogalsky said will provide Richland with more flexibility in its water supply.

The city will be able to drill a well for water, he said.

Kennewick isn't using water from the quad-cities right yet, but the agreement will help secure its availability for growth, said Bruce Beauchene, Kennewick utility services manager. Kennewick plans to start drawing on that water in the near future.

A $2 million grant from the Ecology department helped Kennewick with its project to create a pilot aquifer storage and recovery system. The city will pump water from the river when there is ample water, treat it to drinking standards and store it in the ground, Beauchene said. It can then be withdrawn when less water is available, such as in summer.

The facilities for the project still need to be built, and Beauchene estimates it will be the end of 2012 or in 2013 when the city will start using the storage system.

In West Richland, Ruth Swain, the city's economic development director, said the water is a way to enhance services available to citizens while keeping costs low. And it will allow the city to grow.

The quad-cities water right still has to be approved. Redfield-Wilder said the water right likely will be issued by the end of next year or beginning of 2013, after the department processes about 100 permit applications for Lake Roosevelt water.