Wenatchee Basin Coordinated Cost Reimbursement Program
An effort to expedite processing of water right applications in the Wenatchee Basin
In 2010, the Washington State Legislature passed amendments to RCW 90.03.265 to allow water right applicants to reimburse a state-approved contractor to assist the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) batch-processing water right applications. This process is called “coordinated cost reimbursement processing”. The decision to approve or deny an application rests with Ecology.
In 2012 and pursuant to RCW 90.03.265(3), Chelan County (County) and local municipal water purveyors initiated a coordinated cost reimbursement program to process pending applications for new water rights in the Wenatchee basin in Chelan County. This effort is being undertaken to resolve a backlog of pending new water right applications, in part by accessing the reserve created in the Wenatchee Instream Flow Rule, WAC 173-545-090 for future beneficial use.
In 2015, Ecology suspended the Wenatchee River Basin Coordinated Cost-Reimbursement process based on the decision of the Supreme Court case Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Ecology. However, in March 2016, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6513, which concluded that the Swinomish case did not impact the reserve adopted in the Wenatchee Instream Flow Rule. With the uncertainty removed, Chelan County is resuming the Program and assisting applicants who have been waiting for a new permit.
Step 1. Verifying Current Contact Information and Interest
The first step in this effort is to contact the owner of each pending water right application to verify their current contact information and gage their interest in participating in the cost reimbursement processing. In Washington, applications are personal property belonging to the person who filed them, and do not transfer with land sale. Therefore, the current property owner may not be the person Ecology needs to speak with about this program. However, there is a process to assign applications to new owners. There is also an opportunity to amend applications to make sure they reflect current project plans. Initial contact letters sent out in late November 2012 consisted of the following:
Step 2. Evaluation of Eligibility and Cost
The second step is to evaluate the eligibility of each application using criteria detailed in the Initial Contact Letter. These include whether the purpose and quantity requested by each applicant qualifies for the reserve, whether an interruptible water right subject to minimum instream flows can supply the use, and how much it will cost each applicant to process their application.
Step 3. Formal Disclosure of Processing Cost and Invitation to Participate
Responses to the initial contact letter with an invitation to participate in the coordinated cost-reimbursement program have been received from Applicants. Based on the Applicants’ responses and the eligibility determination, Applicants fell into three categories:
A letter was mailed in June 2014 to inform Applicants of Ecology’s eligibility determination and provide an estimated share of the processing cost that will be due from each interested and eligible Applicant along with an explanation of how the program works. Previously-uninterested Applicants were provided another opportunity to participate in the program. This letter requested that each interested and eligible Applicant elect or decline, in writing, to participate in the cost reimbursement program within 60 days.
In June 2016, a letter was mailed to inform Applicants that Chelan County was moving forward with processing water rights under the Program. This letter was sent to those Applicants that, in 2014, were interested in participating in the Program, were not interested in participating, or who could not be reached. Applicants were asked to respond to this letter by August 1, 2016.
Applicants who agree to pay the processing cost will enter into formal contracts with Chelan County in the summer of 2016. Applicants who decline to participate and Applicants that do not respond within 60 days will keep their applications on file with Ecology, but other Applicants will be processed ahead of them. If applicants need longer than 60 days to arrange financing, they may still be processed under the program if water remains available and if the County is still accepting new applicants. The Wenatchee Basin has a finite reserve of water (4 cubic feet per second) adopted by rule. Applicants who do not participate in this program and instead choose to keep their applications on file risk having inadequate supply for their application in the future. Note that although Ecology cannot prejudge its final permitting decisions, Applicants considered eligible have had pre-vetting of their applications completed under the program criteria and are considered likely to receive a water right permit. All Ecology decisions are appealable to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Applicants electing to participate in the coordinated cost-reimbursement processing will share the overall cost for application processing. The cost for each participant in the program covers the cost for the state contractor to do the work, the County to manage the work, and Ecology to review and issue the water right. If an Applicant prefers to have their own contractor contribute to the process, this is also allowed. Processing costs are summarized in the table below:
Applicants who participate in the Program should be able to view a draft Report of Examination for their project within 4 months on Ecology’s website, which will be posted for a 30-day public comment period. Ecology expects to issue its decision 2 weeks later, which is followed by a 30-day appeal period.
Who to Contact
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. To accomplish this project on behalf of the County and Ecology, Aspect is coordinating outreach to water right Applicants.
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Aspect Consulting by phone at 509-888-2470 or by email at email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I show interest in potentially participating in Step 1, will I be obligated to pay anything?
Not until Step 3: Formal Invitation. In Step 1, we are attempting to verify current owners of the pending applications, and gaging the level of interest in the program among the approximately 150 applicants for a new water right. This information will be used to determine which applicants are eligible for the reserve, and to estimate processing costs. If your application is determined eligible, you will receive a letter in January 2013 requesting your commitment to participate.
Will there be enough water available to fulfill all requests?
The Wenatchee Instream Flow Rule, WAC 173-545-090 created a 4 cubic foot per second (cfs) reserve for future beneficial use. This finite quantity limits the number of requests that can be fulfilled. The reserve will be used to fill eligible new water rights based on priority date until depleted. Applicants who are not eligible for the reserve, will have several options available to them depending on the specifics of their project. Examples include:
What if I decline to participate in the process?
Your application will remain on file with Ecology; however, other applications will be processed ahead of yours. Since the reserve is finite, this may mean that mitigation will be required for your proposal at a later date.
Will my application to change an existing water right be affected by the process?
No. The cost reimbursement process involves only pending applications for new water rights. Applications to change an existing water right will not be considered as part of this cost reimbursement process. Your application will remain on file with Ecology and under RCW 90.03.380(5), your application and existing water right will not be affected by this process. If you have an existing change application on file, you may consider requesting that to be processed via the Chelan County Water Conservancy Board. You can contact the Board at (509) 663-6755.
Pending Wenatchee Basin Application List
Ecology maintains a list of applications filed within the Wenatchee Basin. The following table provides links to images of each application for a new water right in order of priority date:
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