It’s no secret that state water policy has chafed many in Kittitas County, especially in 2009 when the Department of Ecology imposed a moratorium on drilling domestic wells. And while Kittitas County officials have directed their ire at the state, they also came upon a solution: a water bank that would allow purchasers to obtain water rights and assure development in rural areas.
And now, with an assist from — ironically — the state government, the concept soon may expand in Central Washington. Outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal included a $2 million capital item calling on Ecology to purchase senior water rights. Those rights then would be turned over to Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties, and the counties then would make the water available to applicants and avoid infringing on existing water rights.
The proposal has support locally from Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita, who warns that without some sort of plan, future rural development will be at risk. Leita represented the county in talks that led to Gregoire’s proposal. At this point, it remains a proposal that is subject to public review and a thorough study of the devils that may lie in the details.
Other entities have helped parties get to this point. A U.S. Geological Survey study has found that water wells are diverting the flow from rivers and streams, flow whose rights are already fully appropriated. And in 2011, the state Supreme Court ruled that counties must assure that development applicants have legal access to water before they approve new developments. Before the ruling, construction projects like subdivisions could rely on an exemption in state statute for wells using less than 5,000 gallons per day.
Of course, in a few days, Gregoire no longer will be governor. But incoming Gov. Jay Inslee has a strong Yakima Valley history, having represented the area in the Legislature and Congress. During the campaign, he noted the need for improved water storage and displayed considerable awareness about the importance of water availability to the Valley’s economy.
This is an idea in the beginning phase, but it is too promising to let fall through the cracks of an administrative transition. We see this as a worthy proposal for Inslee to include in his budget — and for local legislators to advocate during budget negotiations in the state House and Senate.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.