This page is provided as an archive of past information and is not being updated.  For current information go to -
Columbia River Water Management Program


Columbia River Initiative (CRI) Archive 2002 - 2005

The Columbia River Initiative was Governor Gary Locke’s effort to develop a new water resources management plan for the Columbia River mainstem. 

Governor Locke’s Plan

Gov. Gary Locke proposed proposed a framework for issuing new water rights from the Columbia River, while simultaneously improving stream flows for fish populations. Gov. Locke’s plan included:

  • An executive-request bill for lawmakers to consider during the 2005 legislative session.
  • Capital and operating budget requests of $79 million over the next 10 years to secure water and to conduct feasibility evaluation of new off-channel storage projects.
  • Cooperative agreements with federal and local partners to obtain water.
  • Draft rule language to implement the program.

Documents Relating to the Columbia River Initiative

News Releases

The Rule Proposal

As part of Gov. Locke’s plan designed to institute a new mainstem water resources management program for the Columbia River, Ecology proposed a draft rule, Chapter 173-565, Columbia River Mainstem Water Management Program. The draft rule language would have established:

  • Guidelines for managing the Columbia River Mainstem Water Management Account (Water Account).
  • An administrator for the Water Account and set priorities for allocation of water from the Water Account.
  • Requirements and procedures for issuing water rights during declared droughts to augment existing interruptible rights on the Columbia River mainstem.  These are rights which could be curtailed when flows drop too low.
  • Requirements and procedures to secure a reliable supply of water for water rights issued on the Columbia River mainstem in 2003 as well as for pre-moratorium applications for new water rights from the Columbia River mainstem pending since 1991.
  • Requirements and procedures for issuing new surface and underground or “ground water” rights from the Columbia River mainstem for applications on file with Ecology since 1992, and for any future water-right applications received by the department.

Rulemaking Process Suspended

In February 2005 Governor Gregoire suspended the Columbia River Initiative rulemaking process so that the Legislature could have more time to fully and carefully consider the management policies, financial costs and economic benefits of a new water resource management program for the Columbia Mainstem before moving forward with rule development. 

Environmental Review

As part of the process to develop a new water management plan for the Columbia River, Ecology has prepared a Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

Ecology has issued a “determination of significance” and scoping notice for the development of an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA ) for the Columbia River Initiative (CRI).

To assist the public in understanding the range of potential management alternatives a SEPA Non-Project Review document is available.

Best Management Practices for Interruptible Water Rights

Part of the Columbia River Initiative proposal would have relied on Best Management Practices as part of a strategy to drought-proof interruptible water rights.

Approximately 330 existing water rights on the Columbia River mainstem were issued subsequent to the adoption of an instream flow rule for the river in 1980. These water rights are interruptible during low flow conditions in order to retain water in the river. Through the CRI rule-making process Ecology has agreed to propose a water use efficiency program that would provide existing water right holders with an option to convert their currently interruptible water right to an uninterruptible water right.

Under the terms of a legal settlement with the Columbia Snake River Irrigators Association (CSRIA), the Department of Ecology agreed to propose a rule that would offer an option for water users, with water rights issued after 1980, to convert their water rights to an uninterruptible status. In order to obtain a water right that is not subject to in-stream flow, the water user must either:

  • Pay an amount per acre foot per year for the full amount of water to be used under each permit that would be converted; or
  • Meet best management practices for interruptible rights and transfer the conserved water to the Department of Ecology. Participants would also be required to submit all of their existing water rights, whether interruptible or not, to review by the Department to reflect actual beneficial use.

Participation in this water use efficiency program would be entirely voluntary. Water users that choose not to participate would see no change in their existing water rights.

These provisions were included as part of the proposed Columbia River Initiative rulemaking.

Developing Best Management Practices

Ecology and representatives for interruptible water right holders have been engaged in developing the best management practices (BMPs) for agricultural irrigation and city landscape irrigation. A draft is provided below and will be available for further public review as part of the formal state rule-making process.

The roles of Ecology, CSRIA, other government agencies, and other agricultural organizations, in the implementation of this BMP and water right conversion program have not been determined. The program may include assistance and other functions to be performed by local conservation districts, and/or the Natural Resources Conservation Service.