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On August 2, 2007, amendments to Chapter 173-532 WAC (the Water Resources Program for the Walla Walla River Basin, WRIA 32) were adopted.
The rule applies only to the Washington side of the basin, and does not affect people who already have water rights.
The existing water management rule (adopted in 1977) was amended to better manage and protect the current conditions of the watershed. Population and economic growth are increasing in areas of the Walla Walla Basin where water resources are already limited. The key rule amendments:
The rule amendment process has been heavily driven by local citizens, the Walla Walla Watershed Planning Unit, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). Technical staff from CTUIR and Department of Fish and Wildlife were involved and provided support throughout the process. Ecology will continue to engage the community as implementation of the rule moves forward.
The Walla Walla River basin covers portions of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. The portion in Washington State is referred to as Water Resources Inventory Area (WRIA) 32. The watershed is located in Walla Walla County and part of Columbia County. It has three major river systems: the Touchet, the Mill Creek/Yellowhawk Creek, and the Walla Walla River.
The basin has limited water resources and most of the summer flows in the Walla Walla have been diverted for irrigation. In 1976, Ecology adopted the Water Resources Program Rule for the Walla Walla River Basin, seasonally closing most streams and rivers and limiting future water withdrawals. Due to potential impairment of existing water rights, no new surface or ground water rights have been issued in the basin since 1996.
By 1999, bull trout and steelhead were listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2000, the Walla Walla Community initiated the development of a watershed plan to address the needs of the basin, including stream flow protection and restoration.
The Water Resources Inventory Area (WRIA) 32 Watershed Plan was completed by the Watershed Planning Unit, in May 2005 and adopted by the Walla Walla and Columbia Counties’ Board of Commissions in June 2005. Members of the local Watershed Planning Unit include local stakeholders representing 29 entities, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Walla Walla and Columbia Counties, City of Walla Walla, Gardena Irrigation District No.13 and other governmental and non-governmental entities.
The locally-led Walla Walla Watershed Planning Unit adopted a comprehensive watershed plan for the Walla Walla watershed in May 2005. The committee decided that the current rule 173-532 WAC, adopted 1977, did not provide adequate protection for instream-flow resources and existing water rights in the basin. The committee recommended adoption of a new rule by Ecology that implements both instream flow water rights and protective measures to avoid injury of existing water rights from future appropriations of water.
In the Watershed Plan, recommendations were made on instream flow levels referred to as “new appropriation flows”, modification of the existing stream closures, and use of winter and spring high flows for water storage projects that improve stream flows for salmon production.
Policy and instream flow rule questions:
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