Shopping for water could get easier for prospective home builders in Kittitas County thanks to a water bank website the state launched last week.
The site includes water prices, priority dates, locations of the available water, and contact information for each bank.
Although it covers water banks statewide, a large portion of the interest likely will come from Kittitas County, where water rights are now required for all new wells.
Those rules — which stem from a growth management lawsuit the county lost in 2014 and regulations from the state Department of Ecology — initially slowed development and caused property values to drop, especially in the northwest part of the county where vacation homes make up much of the market.
Now as more water banks, including one run by the county, are up and running, land sales are starting to recover, said Kitty Wallace, a Cle Elum real estate broker.
The new site should be helpful but there’s still room for improvement to make it easier to use for landowners, realtors, and builders, she said.
“The challenge of water mitigation is how long the process takes,” Wallace said. “This impacts land sales as buyers don’t want to wait that long to start building. It is also an issue for bank financing as most lenders require the mitigation to be complete before they will loan on the land.”
Buying a water right to offset the impact of a new well can be complicated, because the water right has to be from the same general area as the intended new use.
For some parts of Kittitas County, there’s large amounts of water available for purchase through a relatively simple process and in other areas, there might be none at all. That’s illustrated through green, yellow, and red zones on county maps.
According to the new site, prices for a single residential well in the Yakima Basin range from $3,080 to $15,000.
The new website, which is run by the Ecology Department, was created by the Legislature through a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.
“Setting up a one-stop shop of information for those who have water banks and those who may want to utilize a bank is the first step in providing transparency on this water management issue,” Honeyford said in a statement about the web page launch.
Wallace said the Kittitas County Association of Realtors and Washington Realtors are continuing to work with the state on the issue.
“We have a small task force charged with looking at the site from our perspective and hope to share our finding with Ecology so we have a website that is both informative and will help expedite the water mitigation process so we can keep land sales moving and people can build homes which is the goal at the end of the day,” she said.