Department of Ecology News Release - December 17, 2012

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Ecology and Chelan County partner on new water rights

YAKIMA – Water may soon be available for new projects in the Wenatchee River Basin under a program being launched by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and Chelan County Department of Natural Resources (Chelan County).

Letters have been sent to 150 water right applicants inviting them to participate in a fee-based program designed to expedite the processing of their request for water. The program provides applicants the option to reimburse Ecology for hiring a state-approved contractor to process pending water right applications.

Chelan County and local municipal water purveyors are the first to take advantage of legislation passed in 2010 allowing batches of water rights to be processed under a coordinated cost reimbursement program. The program will take advantage of a reservation of water set aside in the Wenatchee River for new uses.

“Our goal is to help resolve a backlog of new water right applications in part by accessing the reservation of water set aside in the Wenatchee Instream Flow Rule,” explained Mike Kaputa, Chelan County Natural Resources director. “Many of these purveyors have existing applications in line waiting to be processed, and the Wenatchee basin as a whole will benefit from increased economic development as a result of making this water available as intended when the instream flow rule was updated in 2007.”

Contractors will do the groundwork needed to identify what impact a new water withdrawal might have in the basin and whether water is available without harming another user’s rights – tests that must be met for water rights to be issued in a basin. Final approval rests with Ecology.

Participation in the program is optional. Those that don’t participate will keep their place in line, while others may move forward with their application.

“The four cubic-feet-per-second reservation provides opportunities for those eligible to gain new water rights until the reservation is depleted,” explained Kelsey Collins, a cost reimbursement project manager for Ecology. “Applicants also may be able to receive water rights using mitigation options other than the reserve on a case-by-case basis.” 

Costs will depend on how many applicants participate, with fees being reduced if more people opt into the program. Cost estimates range from $5,000 to $15,000 per application, depending on the number of applicants and the scope of their application.

“By processing an entire basin, we believe that the cost per application will be lower than if an individual stepped forward to have a right processed alone,” Kaputa said.

Applicants are asked to indicate their interest in the program by Jan. 25, 2013. More information will be available this spring, following outreach to the applicants.

As initiators of the coordinated cost-reimbursement process for the Wenatchee Basin, Chelan County selected Aspect Consulting, LLC (Aspect) as Ecology’s pre-qualified consultant to lead the project. Those with questions may contact Bill Sullivan at 509- 888-5766 or email at bsullivan@aspectconsulting.com. More information is available online.

Reduced funding levels for water right-processing, increased legal complexities and growing competition for limited water resources has slowed Ecology’s efforts to address water right applications statewide. Cost-reimbursement provides the agency with more tools to manage water rights processing.

“This provides a new way to process water rights that achieves economic benefits for the Wenatchee area and protects streamflows in the Wenatchee River,” said Mark Kemner, Ecology water resources manager in Yakima. 

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