Department of Ecology News Release - December 3, 2012

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Benton County water right evaluation deadline nears

YAKIMA – Applicants for new water rights in a sub-basin of the Yakima River that includes the areas of West Richland, Richland and Badger Canyon in Benton County are being sent reminders by the Washington Department of Ecology that they have until Dec. 14, 2012, to indicate how they’d like their request to be processed.

In September, letters were sent to about 150 applicants for new ground and surface water permits in the area known as Sub-basin 31. So far, the agency has received responses from about one-third of the applicants in Benton County. 

The requests for water are among those being evaluated now that a United States Geological Survey (USGS) study of the Yakima basin’s complex hydrology is complete. Water requests in the Moxee and Wide Hollow sub-basins were the first to be considered since the report’s release in the fall of 2011.

An administrative hold on issuing new water rights has been in place due to historic water shortages and concerns that authorizing new groundwater pumping would only worsen the total water supply in the basin.

Applicants are asked to consider a number of options to help the agency in making permit decisions about their proposed water use in the context of study results. Declining aquifers will make it difficult to approve water rights in some areas. In others, new uses may be approved if applicants receive coverage under an existing senior water right to offset or mitigate the expected impacts of a new withdrawal on the river and senior users.

Some may want to consider mitigation options, while others may want to move forward with the request as is. Some applicants may no longer own the property for which the water requests were made and those applications may be assigned to new landowners. If that is the case, land owners need to contact Ecology so new owners may be given an opportunity to decide what to do about the water request.

Those with questions, may contact Teresa Mitchell at teresa.mitchell@ecy.wa.gov 509-575-2597, or Sage Park at sage.park@ecy.wa.gov, 509-454-7647.

The decade-long study conducted by the USGS indicates pumping from underground aquifers draws water from the river and contributes to surface water shortages in the basin. The impacts are particularly felt in July and August when senior water right holders such as irrigators and fisheries need it most. The information in the study reinforces that ground and surface waters in the basin must be managed as one resource.

It also provides the scientific information to identify when and by how much a new water withdrawal is reducing the total water supply. This can be useful for achieving mitigation to offset the impacts of new water permits.

The request for the groundwater study and model was part of a settlement with the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation resulting from appeals of several dozen groundwater permits Ecology issued in 1993 in the Moxee Basin. In those appeals, both the Yakamas and Reclamation claimed new groundwater pumping intercepted surface water supplies and threatened fisheries and their more senior water rights.

More information is available at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cro/yakima-sb31.html

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Media Contacts:

Joye Redfield-Wilder, Communications Manager, 509-575-2610; joye.redfield-wilder@ecy.wa.gov

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