Washington is no stranger to the idea of measuring water use. The requirements of installing measuring devices and recording water use has existed in Washington since the enactment of the water code in 1917. Various water right adjudications have also resulted in the requirement to measure water use. Updates to the water code (RCW 90.03.360) in 1993 required the measurement of all new surface water rights and for existing water rights that meet at least one of the following criteria:
Here is a timeline of events:
- Legislature amends the water code at RCW 90.03.360 to include a provision regarding water right measuring, water use data collection, and reporting.
- American Rivers and other groups file suit against Ecology for not complying with the 1993 water measurement law (American Rivers et al vs. Department of Ecology).
- Thurston County Superior Court issues a final ruling in the case. The court orders Ecology to submit a Compliance Rule, which Ecology submits on March 30, 2001. It describes how Ecology intends to enact the requirements of the measurement law by December 31, 2002. More information can be found in the Metering Lawsuit section below.
- Ecology promulgates WAC 173-173 and establishes the statewide metering program.
- Owners of water rights in the 16 fish-critical basins calculated to represent the 80% of the basin’s total instantaneous water use (as authorized under water rights) are ordered to install source water meters and to record and report their water use to Ecology.
- All surface water right owners (in fish-critical and non-critical basins) withdrawing more than one cfs are ordered to begin measuring their diversions and reporting their use.
- All new water rights and all water rights changes issued after this time in the 16 fish-critical basins are required, as a provision of their water right, to install a source water measuring device, record water use, and depending on the instantaneous and annual quantities of their water right, report their use to Ecology.
- All new surface water rights and all changes to surface water rights issued after this time in non fish-critical basins are required, as a provision of their water right, to install a source water meter, record water use, and depending on the instantaneous and annual quantities of their water right, report their use to Ecology.
- Ecology provides funding to those required to install measurement devices. A voluntary cost-share agreement program also begins, allowing water right holders not required to install a measurement device to apply for and receive funding from Ecology in exchange for reporting to their water use data to Ecology. Funding is provided until 2010.
- Columbia River Program (now OCR) established and staged implementation of the Columbia River metering program begun.
- Phase 1 (from Priest Rapids Dam downstream to McNary Dam, and upstream from the mouth of the Snake River to Lower Monumental Dam) completed by December 2007.
- Phase 2 (from Wells Dam downstream to Priest Rapids Dam) completed by the end of 2008.
- Phase 3 (from the Canadian border downstream to Wells Dam, and from McNary Dam downstream to Bonneville Dam) completed by the end 2009.
- Online reporting of metering data deployed, allowing water right holders to electronically submit their meter data via Ecology’s website.
In March 1999, American Rivers, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Washington Environmental Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources filed suit against Ecology for not complying with the 1993 water measuring law. A summary judgment was filed in March 2000. A summary judgment is a procedural tool that is used to settle a controversy without a trial.
In December 2000, the Thurston County Superior Court issued a final ruling in this case. The court ordered Ecology to submit a Compliance Plan, which Ecology submitted on March 30, 2001. It describes how Ecology intended to bring its water compliance program into line with the state water measuring law by December 31, 2002.
The March 2001 Compliance Plans calls for water right holders comprising the top 80 percent of total water use in 16 Fish Critical Basins to conform their measuring and reporting practices with the requirements of the new water measuring rule. Most often, these water right holders included municipalities, public utility districts, and large agricultural operations, many of which already measured their water use.
Also in 2001, Chapter 173-173 WAC (Requirements for measuring and reporting water use) was created to replace the outdated 1969 Chapter 508-64 WAC (Measuring Devices for Water Diversion and Withdrawal Facilities). WAC 173-173 detailed the requirements for measuring and reporting water use. This set the basis for Ecology’s statewide metering program.
In accordance with the new Compliance Plan and Measuring Rule, beginning in 2002, metering and reporting Orders were mailed to water right holders identified as using 80% of the water in the fish critical watersheds.
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