Friday, September 10, 2010

Who should pay for Ecology’s water management services?

By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources Program

The second week of the Water Smart Washington Online Forum, hosted by the Washington Department of Ecology, asked if Washington taxpayers through the state general fund, should pay for water right application processing or should those who want to use the water of the state pay a larger portion of the cost.

Of the 22 respondents to the question as of noon Friday (Sept. 10), half of them believed that water right applicants should pay more or all of the cost of processing their applications. Seven of the respondents didn’t take a position but questioned the efficiency of the process or were skeptical of Ecology’s estimated average cost ($10,000) of processing a water right application.

In our own comment, we explained that the water right application process is not a simple process that can be done by clerical staff. Significant scientific and technical analysis is required for each application by licensed hydrogeologists and other qualified environmental professional.

Under Washington state law, the waters of Washington collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Since much of the water in Washington has already been allocated or claimed, new water rights are increasingly difficult to obtain. This means that any new water right is subject to existing (more senior) rights. Therefore water right applications may be denied, or water use may be regulated or modified, if it adversely affects existing rights. This protects existing water rights against any impairment (harmful effects) by future applicants.

Investigating Water Availability

Ecology is required to conduct an investigation on each application to determine the physical and legal availability of water, if the proposed use will impair existing water rights and if the proposed use is detrimental to the public interest.

Many applications are for groundwater and because groundwater is not readily visible to help determine physical availability, it takes a fair amount of research and staff time in order to determine physical availability and if a new use of groundwater will impair senior uses.

In addition, many stream basins in Washington state are closed to new withdrawals (from both surface water and groundwater in the basin) during all or part of the year. In order to receive a permit, water right applicants may need to provide mitigation in order to ensure that water rights are not impaired.

The results of a water right application investigation are summarized in a Report of Examination (ROE). The ROE contains Ecology's decision on the water right request. Ecology can recommend a denial, an approval, or an approval with conditions. In addition, other (senior) water right holders, cities, water districts, farmers, Indian tribes and environmental interest groups can all appeal Ecology’s decision. All of this takes time and resources.

Question of the Week: Sept. 13-19

The third Question of the Week in Online Forum continues the theme of who should play for the water management services of the Department of Ecology:
“The Water Resources Program at the Department of Ecology provides a host of services in addition to the processing of water right applications such as monitoring surface and groundwater use to ensure water availability, working with water right holders so they remain in compliance with permit conditions, collecting and storing water related information, and regulating water well drilling. About 85 percent of the work of the program is currently funded through taxpayer revenue. Should those who benefit from the water management services provided by the Water Resources Program be required to pay a higher portion of those costs?”

Question of the Week No. 3 will be open for comment by noon Monday, Sept. 13.

The forum is designed to get your ideas and suggestions on how Ecology’s Water Resources Program can become more effective and efficient in protecting and managing Washington’s water supplies for current and future users.

To contribute your ideas and join the discussion in the forum, go to the Ecology homepage and click on the Water Smart Washington logo. Comments and suggestions received in the forum are being cataloged and archived and will help shape the policy initiatives Ecology is considering and the proposed legislation Ecology will be requesting to reform water resource management in Washington state.

No comments: