Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walla Walla Water News

As it turns out, water (water rights, conservation, irrigation) has become something of a hobby of mine. I'm sure I mumbled about it last year, but (for reasons to lengthy to recap) I ended up reading the Washington RCWs and WACs in relation to Water law and the Department of Ecology's rule making authority. If I had it to do over again, I'd go to law school and specialize in Water/Environmental law.

Anyway, I keep an eye on the local water board minutes, I peruse the DOE online activities and mine the site using Google. Man, I love the Internet.

So what? Well, water is going to be an ongoing bone of contention in Walla Walla. Has been for a long time and it won't be getting better. Here are some of my current observations and predictions.

* The Washington Attorney General recently issued an opinion (AGO Opinion 2009 No 6) stating that Ecology does not have the authority to curtail exempt well quantities. Ecology can close a basin to new exempt wells if there is not enough information, or if there is not enough water, but no tinkering with Statutorily established quantified. If Ecology allows an exempt well then (in the AGO's opinion) the users gets...

5000 gallons a day for domestic
5000 a day for industrial (including irrigation with no acre limit)
unlimited water for 1/2 acre yard and non-commercial garden
unlimited water for "stockwater" use

Ecology can close the basin, and/or require drop for drop mitigation, but not modify statutorily granted quantities. This is something I thought a year ago when I first read the WRIA 32 rule. The WAC concerning Ecology's rule making authority specifically prohibits superseding state law with a rule. Certainly removes some flexibility Ecology had.

* County governments and Ecology cannot get together to limit quantities on Exempt wells (if I am reading the AGO opinion correctly...and I think this is currently in litigation). Basically nether entity has the authority to modify statue (quantities allowed for exempt wells) and they cannot collaborate to grant themselves that authority.

* Walla Walla is still "watermasterless." From the stuff I have read, it doesn't look like much progress has been made to replace our last one. I hope something is done in the not too distant future. While I have mixed feelings about Ecology's behavior, analysis and general ability to consistently manage the states's largely because they're understaffed, underfunded and not having a "water cop" in Walla Walla is really not an option. I liked Bill (the old WM) and I think his presence (in the official role...he's now consulting locally) will be missed.

Oh yeah...if you have concerns or questions about what you can and cannot do, call a lawyer. I'm not one :)

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