Big Water Clients in Eastern Washington Ordered to Report Useby Associated Press
Seattle Times - July 4, 2002
KENNEWICK — The state is ordering some of the largest water users in Eastern Washington to start monitoring and reporting how much they withdraw.
More than 300 water users in the Okanogan, Wenatchee, Methow (Okanogan County), Walla Walla and middle Snake basins are targeted in directives from the state Department of Ecology this month.
Those in the Lower Yakima Valley are due to get notices soon.
The current set of 313 orders is going to irrigators and others who have not had to measure water use before.
"This is the first step toward a real thoughtful look at how we are managing water resources in those critical basins," Department of Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said.
It's part of efforts to assess and prevent illegal water use, state officials say. The new program will help determine whether users are exceeding their water rights.
Just having reporting procedures in place "may help deter illegal water use," Hart said.
By Dec. 31, the state intends to have sent orders to approximately 1,000 farms, irrigation districts, cities and other customers that together use about 80 percent of the water in "fish-critical" basins.
The effort could generate some of the best information to date about water use in rivers and streams where protected salmon species are not doing well.
The need for improved metering has been a legislative issue for years.
The current push is the result of a successful lawsuit against the state by environmental groups, which said the Department of Ecology was not complying with a 1993 law requiring major water users to measure and report their water usage to the state.
Orders were sent earlier to 250 water users that already measure withdrawals as a condition of their rights but were not previously required to report to the state.
The Legislature provided $3.4 million in grant money that the department can spend to help water users comply with the order.
That may not be enough to make the new conditions popular with water users, many of whom bristle at the thought of tighter regulation.
"Just like most anything that happens in the water world, we could see litigation going forward," Hart said. "This is probably going to take at least a year or more to settle out."
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