Washington State Department of Ecology - August 13, 2013

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Information sought on Kittitas County water permit requests

YAKIMA – The Department of Ecology’s evaluation of pending requests for new water permits in the Yakima River Basin moves this week into lower Kittitas County. Water requests are being considered based on results of a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study that identifies what impact new groundwater pumping would have on the Yakima River and senior water users.

Letters have been sent to about 120 applicants for new water permits in lower Kittitas County asking how they’d like their requests for water to be processed. Applicants have 90 days to respond to the request once they receive the letters. Applications for water have been pending for many years.

Largely, the USGS study indicates new water uses will require coverage under an existing senior water right to offset or mitigate the expected impacts of a new withdrawal on the river and senior users. Declining aquifers will make it difficult to approve water rights in other areas. The USGS study can be used to predict what impacts new groundwater withdrawals will have on surface water and whether new withdrawals may be allowed if mitigated.

“As a result of water shortages and legal challenges, water supplies in the Yakima Basin have been at risk and under litigation for years,” said Mark Kemner, Ecology water resources manager in Yakima. “Ecology hasn’t issued new water right permits during that time. Completion of the USGS study now allows us to move forward in the processing of water rights applications. For the last year we’ve been taking a systematic look at requests throughout the basin.”

Applicants are asked to consider a number of options to help the agency in making permit decisions in the context of study results.

 “Most people are choosing to set aside their requests for water, which allows them time to seek needed mitigation or consider other alternatives,” said Kemner.

Water right processing is underway in the Moxee and Wide Hollow subbasins and in areas of West Richland, Richland and Badger Canyon in Benton County. Of 200 intent forms returned so far, 127 respondents have requested that their water application be placed on hold. Another 48 respondents have withdrawn their application, five have submitted mitigation plans and 15 applications have been denied. Others either no longer owned the property or requested processing as non-consumptive or without mitigation.

Completion of the USGS study and model in the fall of 2011 provided the best scientific information available to make water right decisions and for achieving mitigation. It resulted from  a legal settlement between Ecology and the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who were concerned that new groundwater pumping would only worsen the total water supply in the basin.

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Media Contacts:

Joye Redfield-Wilder; 509-575-2610; 509-961-6277; jred461@ecy.wa.gov

More information:

Yakima Basin (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/cro/yakimabasin.html)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)