Department of Ecology News Release - November 30, 2009


Upper Kittitas emergency groundwater rule continued

OLYMPIA – The Department of Ecology (Ecology) is extending its current emergency groundwater rule in upper Kittitas County while talks continue with the county on a groundwater management agreement.

The emergency rule put in place in July was due to expire on Nov. 28, 2009.

On Nov. 25, 2009, Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant signed the sixth Upper Kittitas Emergency Groundwater Rule, which continues a restriction on new groundwater withdrawals in upper Kittitas. The restriction applies unless the water use is fully mitigated to offset impacts to senior water rights and stream flows.

At risk are the rights of senior surface and groundwater users and streamflow levels for fish and wildlife. Also at risk is water use of junior water right holders, including future homeowners, who would rely on exempt wells that could be shut off in times of severe drought to protect senior water rights.

The new rule will be in effect for up to 120 days. It doesn’t affect people with vested building permit applications or those who received building permits in the upper county as of July 16, 2009. The sixth emergency rule further clarifies what building permits associated with existing, but not yet completed, “group” withdrawals may be allowed under the emergency closure.

New groundwater withdrawals were halted in July in upper Kittitas County because Ecology lacks sufficient information on what impact groundwater pumping there has on the total water supply for the Yakima River Basin. A soon-to-be released U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study will describe how most aquifers interact with the Yakima River. However, more information on the bedrock aquifers in the upper county is still needed.

Ecology hopes to move forward with Kittitas County on a groundwater study of those portions of the county not fully addressed in the current USGS study. The Legislature has provided funds to study the connection between surface water and the bedrock aquifers.

The proliferation of permit-exempt wells for housing developments has allowed water use to go unchecked at the headwaters of the Yakima Basin. Headwater streams and groundwater are known to be connected, and drawing water from one depletes the other.

A number of parties, including the Yakama Nation, Roza Irrigation District and the city of Roslyn, have asked that Ecology close the groundwater to further appropriation while a groundwater study is completed.

New groundwater withdrawals will be allowed when the new use is fully mitigated. Mitigation can generally be achieved by acquiring and transferring or retiring another existing water right from the same source. Ecology is developing a water banking system to allow for access to mitigation water by new water users.

A copy of the sixth emergency rule may be viewed online at:


Media Contacts:

Joye Redfield-Wilder, 509-575-2610; 509-961-6277, cell;
Dan Partridge, 360-407-7139; 360-480-5722, cell; 

For text of the new emergency rule: