Understanding Washington Water Law
Our challenge is to share our water supply and to use it efficiently and
carefully so there is enough for everyone and everything that depends on it.
How we collectively resolve competing needs is critical. Whether we know it or
not, we are all – each and every one of us – water managers.
Up Close: Managing our Water Successfully - Historically, Washington
residents have enjoyed an abundance of clean, inexpensive water, in a
water-rich state. But water availability can no longer be taken for
granted. Washington increasingly lacks water where and when it is needed for
communities and the environment.
The following links to publications and web pages are provided to assist you with answers to
questions you may have.
Washington Water Law
Frequently Asked Questions about Water Rights in Washington
- The Department of Ecology manages the state's water resources, working to
meet all the varied demands on Washington's public waters. Water rights play
a crucial role in managing and allocating this finite resource. Under
state law, the waters of Washington collectively belong to the public and
cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, Ecology may grant
individuals or groups the right to use them.
Water Right Information
Ground Water Permit Exemption
Focus on the Ground Water Permit
Exemption - In Washington State, prospective water users must obtain authorization from the Department of Ecology (Ecology) before diverting surface water or withdrawing ground water, with the one exception discussed below. Authorization to use surface or ground water is granted by Ecology in the form of a water right permit or certificate.
Primary Statutes and
Legal Basis Relating to Instream Flows - In 1917, the State Water Code was
passed (RCW 90.03) which established appropriation as the means for
establishing rights to surface water. The State Ground Water Code was passed
in 1945 which extended the appropriation system to ground water.
Protecting our Stream Flows
- Historically, Washington residents have enjoyed an abundance of clean,
accessible water in a water-rich state. However, residents find they can no
longer take water availability for granted. Washington increasingly lacks water
when and where it is needed for communities and the environment.
Setting Instream Flows in Washington State
- With few exceptions, water appropriation reduces streamflow, whether water
is taken by a direct diversion from a stream or from a well pumping some
distance from a stream. At the most critical times of year, the amount of
water necessary to preserve fish habitat and satisfy existing water rights
sometimes equals or exceeds the amount of water naturally flowing in the
stream, leaving little or nothing for additional water right appropriation.
Instream Flow Study Methods Used in Washington
- The three methods instream flow study methods described below are the primary
flow measurement methods used in Washington state. IFIM and toe-width are the
methods used most often. Because it is infrequently used in Washington, the
Tennant method is omitted from the table.
State Water Use Laws: Compliance and Enforcement
Water is vital to our daily activities. How we use water affects all of us –
our neighbors, businesses, farms, and the environment. Growth in residential
development, business, and agriculture has increased competition for water. Dwindling salmon stocks and their listing under the Endangered Species Act have
heightened concern about excessive water use and compliance with water resources
Laws regulating water use are not new. Even when Washington’s population was
small and water demand was low, there was recognition that water use required
regulation to reduce conflicts among competing water users and to protect the
resource. The Legislature established the Surface Water Code in 1917, the
Groundwater Code in 1945, and added provisions addressing water for fish and
wildlife in 1949.
Copyright © Washington State Department of Ecology. See http://www.ecy.wa.gov/copyright.htm