The waters of Washington State collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, individuals or groups may be granted rights to use them. A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated purpose. This purpose must qualify as a beneficial use. Beneficial use involves the application of a reasonable quantity of water to a non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few. An average household uses about 300 gallons of water per day.
State law requires certain users of public waters to receive approval from the state prior to using water - in the form of a water right permit or certificate. Any use of surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, or springs) which began after the state water code was enacted in 1917 requires a water-right permit or certificate.
Likewise, withdrawals of underground (ground) water from 1945 onward, when the state groundwater code was enacted, require a water right permit or certificate – unless the use is specifically exempt from state permitting requirements. While “exempt” groundwater uses are excused from needing a state permit, they still are considered to be water rights.
For questions about water rights contact the regional office:
WATER LAWS AND POLICIES
COMMITTEES AND WORKGROUPS
Environmental Permit Handbook - Water Resource Permits
Current information for certified water rights examiners
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