IN THE NEWS: Cooperation over contention gets things done on water policy

Yakima Herald Republic

Not long ago, Kittitas County could have been the poster child for tensions between local and state governments on water use. Issues erupted in 2009 and simmered for the next five years or so: The state Department of Ecology imposed a moratorium on drilling domestic wells, the U.S. Geological Survey found groundwater makes its way to surface streams, and that water wells are diverting the flow from those rivers and streams; the state Supreme Court ruled that counties must assure that development applicants have legal access to water before they approve new developments, and Kittitas County lost a growth management lawsuit.

All this stems from competition for a water resource that is fully appropriated. As it stands now, water rights are required for all new wells in the county, a situation that particularly affects the upper county housing industry. The lack of a certain water supply has served to spook prospective home builders, buyers and lenders,

Out of that legal and regulatory contention arose a Kittitas County water bank, in which a party can buy a water right to offset the impact of a new well. The bank is a very promising idea with a potentially sticky provision in Kittitas County: The water right has to come from the same general area as the intended new use; acceptable areas are indicated in color-coded county maps.

The information is now easier to access. Earlier this month, the announcement came that the state has set up a water bank website, in which interested parties can click onto the web address and find information that includes water prices, priority dates, locations of water and contact information.

As an example of the contention yielding to cooperation, the Ecology Department runs the website, which the Legislature created through a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jim Honeyford, a Sunnyside Republican who understands well the inherent tension between growers and Ecology. Honeyford touted “a one-stop shop of information” that the website provides.

The real-estate industry also sees this as a promising development, with a Cle Elum real estate broker saying the industry is continuing to work with the state on the website as they strive to smooth out the process.

Kittitas County has company in setting up water banks. The website includes information for the Yakima River Basin, the Columbia River, the Walla Walla River Basin and the Dungeness River Basin on the Olympic Peninsula.

Kittitas County lies at the nexus of many competing entities — agriculture, fishing, residential — that covet the water that flows from the county’s mountains and snowpack. The cooperation displayed in the water bank program shows that working out compromise is the most productive way to resolve these sensitive issues. Compromises by nature don’t please everyone, but once implemented they provide certainty and allow competing entities to get on with their business. That’s exactly what is happening now in Kittitas County.

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.

The original article, published July 21, 2016, can be viewed here.