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Water Resources

Water Rights

Note: An October 2016 Washington State Supreme Court case impacts permit-exempt well use, which may affect some of the information provided on this page.

The waters of Washington State collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, individuals or groups may be granted rights to use them. A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated purpose. This purpose must qualify as a beneficial use. Beneficial use involves the application of a reasonable quantity of water to a non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few. An average household uses about 300 gallons of water per day.

State law requires certain users of public waters to receive approval from the state prior to using water - in the form of a water right permit or certificate. Any use of surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, or springs) which began after the state water code was enacted in 1917 requires a water-right permit or certificate.

Likewise, withdrawals of underground (ground) water from 1945 onward, when the state groundwater code was enacted, require a water right permit or certificate – unless the use is specifically exempt from state permitting requirements. While “exempt” groundwater uses are excused from needing a state permit, they still are considered to be water rights.

How do I?

Water resources data

Public notices


For questions about water rights contact the regional office:

Northwest Region - Bellevue
Counties:  Island, King, Kitsap, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom

Office: 425-649-7020
E-mail: Arlene.Harris@ecy.wa.gov
Office location and address
Southwest Region - Lacey
Counties:  Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Lewis, Pacific, Pierce, Skamania, Thurston and Wahkiakum

Office: 360-407-6859
E-mail: Opal.Smitherman@ecy.wa.gov
Office location and address

Central Region - Union Gap
Counties: Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, and Yakima

Office: 509-575-2597
Office location and address


Eastern Region - Spokane
Counties:  Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman

Office: 509-329-3541
E-mail: Anita.Waterman@ecy.wa.gov
Office location and address



Landowner's Guide to Washington Water Rights

An Introduction to Washington Water Law

State Water Use Laws - Why is Compliance Important?

Municipal Water Law

Pending water right applications by county/RSS Feed

Ground Water Permit Exemption

Water Resources-Related Laws (RCWs)

Water Resources-Related Rules (WACs)

Water Right Policy and Procedures


Water Resource Advisory Committee


Regulatory Handbook - Water Resource Permits

Certified Water Rights Examiner - Current information for certified water rights examiners