Pending water right applications in subbasins of the Yakima River Basin

Additional Information


Focus on Mitigation in the Yakima Basin

News Releases

Subbasin 22, 23and 24

Ecology contacted people and entities with pending applications for water right permits in Subbasin 23.  Ecology contacted people and entities with pending applications for water right permits in the Subbasins 22 and 24. The August 17, 2012 deadline for responses has passed.

Ecology is offering five options for application processing:


Ecology has not issued surface water rights within the Yakima Basin since the beginning of the adjudication over 30 years ago.  Groundwater rights haven’t been issued for almost 20 years.  Before a new water right permit is issued, Ecology must determine water is available and that the new permitted use will not have a negative impact on existing water rights.

The adjudication and other applicable state and federal court decisions have determined that the Yakima River Basin is “over-appropriated,” meaning more surface water rights have been confirmed in the adjudication than there is actual water flowing in the streams.

To put this in context, it is important to understand the history of water in the Yakima River Basin and a basic tenet of Western Water Law, “first in time is first in right.”

Surface water not fully appropriated or spoken for by May 10, 1905 was claimed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to support its extensive Yakima Basin agricultural irrigation project as authorized by Congress.  The Yakima Basin Project relies on surface water stored in five Reclamation reservoirs and the recharge from snowmelt and connected underground aquifers to supply water to its thousands of irrigation customers.  This water supply supports the $1.5 billion agricultural industry encompassing Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties.  Since 1990, the Yakima Project’s post May 10, 1905 water rights have been prorated to less than 50% of a full water supply.  The economic value of these farms is threatened when water supplies run short.

In addition, the Yakama Nation has the right to hunt and fish at their usual and accustomed hunting and fishing grounds, and holds time immemorial water rights related to stream flows supporting those fisheries.  Stream flows must be maintained at a level to support fish as ordered by state and federal courts and as mandated by Congressional act.

All rights to Yakima Basin surface water have been adjudicated and confirmed in Superior Court under the priority system: those with the oldest water rights, predating 1905 are considered senior water rights.  Those dating after 1905 are junior and are stopped (curtailed) in low water years or during drought.  The purpose of curtailment is to ensure senior water right holders get the water they are entitled to.

Yakima Basin Groundwater Study

In September 2011, the United States Geological Survey released the final report on the Yakima Basin Groundwater Study.  The study confirms that groundwater and surface water are directly connected in the Yakima Basin.  It also demonstrates that withdrawing groundwater in the basin reduces stream flows.  Any uses which are not offset (are unmitigated) from either surface water or groundwater in the Yakima Basin would add to the existing water deficit in the basin.  This is why Ecology anticipates that pending applications for new surface water or groundwater rights will not be approved without mitigation.


Central Region Water Resources Program
Phone: (509) 575-2597