Laws and Rules:
A water right claim is simply that, a claim to a water right for a water use which predates the water permitting system. Its validity can only be confirmed through judicial processes.
In the 1960's, the Washington State legislature realized the need to document water rights established prior to 1917 for surface water and prior to 1945 for ground water. These water rights are vested rights. A vested right is a water right established through beneficial use of water. A water right claim is a statement of beneficial use of water that began prior to 1917 for surface water and prior to 1945 for ground water. In 1967, the Claims Registration Act was passed to record the amount and location of these vested water rights.
The Claims Registration Act set a specific time window for water users to file their water right claims with the state. Users of exempt ground-water withdrawals were also encouraged to file claims so that they could establish priority dates for their rights. Some users were not required to file a claim, including:
The initial statewide opening of the Claims Registry ended June 30, 1974. The legislature has subsequently re-opened the Claims Registry three times. The most recent opening occurred from September 1997 to June 1998. Statewide, there are roughly 169,000 water-right claims on record.
Claims will remain valid until such time that an adjudication occurs, whereby the validity of the claims must be proven before a court of law. Adjudication can be initiated by several means, but normally will not occur unless there are significant problems with water availability in an area. During adjudication, claimants are required to prove that water has been in constant beneficial use prior to 1917 for surface water and prior to 1945 for ground water. Five or more consecutive years of non-use may invalidate a claim.
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