Water Metering Orderedby Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, July 3, 2002
The largest water users in Washington's critical salmon areas are being ordered this week to start monitoring and reporting water withdrawals to the state.
It's an "essential" part of efforts to assess and prevent illegal water use, state officials say.
Nearly 100 water users in the Walla Walla basin are among those getting directives from the state Department of Ecology, and more in the Lower Yakima Valley are due to get notices soon. The Okanogan, Wenatchee, Methow and middle Snake basins are the other regions in Eastern Washington targeted this month.
"This is the first step toward a real thoughtful look at how we are managing water resources in those critical basins," said Curt Hart, agency spokesman.
Among the most important information derived from the new program will be whether water 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 aims to have sent orders to approximately 1,000 farms, irrigation districts, cities and others that use about 80 percent of the water in "fish-critical" basins.
Should the state's effort compel widespread reporting, it's likely to generate some of the best information to date about water use in rivers and streams where protected salmon species are faring worst.
"Measuring water ... is essential to effectively manage water supplies," according to one state publication. "Successful water supply management requires knowing how much water is actually being used and whether water is available for new uses."
The need for improved metering has been a legislative issue for years. The current push, however, comes as a result of a successful suit against the state by environmental groups, which said the agency was not complying with a 1993 law requiring major water users to measure and report to the state.
The first set of 250 orders went to water users that already measure withdrawals as a condition of their rights but did not necessarily report to the state.
The current set of 313 orders is going to water users who have not had to measure water use before. The Legislature provided $3.4 million in grant money that the Ecology Department can dole out 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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