Despite protests from some residents, Yakima County commissioners on Tuesday approved a water utility that collects permit and usage fees on all new domestic wells in unincorporated areas of the county.
Until now, rural domestic wells — those that draw less than 5,000 gallons a day — were not required to obtain a water right permit.
Under the water utility called the Yakima County Water Resource System, new rural wells in unincorporated areas would be subject to a $1,150 one-time connection permit and meter installation fee as well as a $35 quarterly service fee. The measure also would assess a fee of about $177 a year, depending on how much water is used.
Existing rural domestic wells are exempt from the water utility, which takes effect in January. Landowners who do not want to participate in the water utility would have to secure a water right elsewhere before being issued a building permit.
At Tuesday’s meeting, more than 30 landowners, well drillers and others filled the commissioner’s regular business meeting at Yakima City Hall to voice concerns before commissioners approved an ordinance establishing the water utility.
Several said the measure encroaches on property rights by regulating “their” water.
Last week commissioners faced similar criticism during a crowded public hearing, where about a dozen spoke against the water utility.
On Tuesday, commissioners told the crowd the water utility is the only way to comply with a recent state Supreme Court ruling ordering counties to prove adequate water supply and legal right to it when issuing building permits for rural domestic dwellings.
Water has long been overallocated in the Yakima Basin, with senior water rights holders often concerned about the impacts rural domestic wells are having on water supply.
While rural wells draw from groundwater, farmers with senior water rights typically get irrigation water from surface flows.
But according to a federal study, both sources of water are linked.
The study has changed the way farmers, county officials and even the state’s high court view water supply issues and firms up the arguments made by senior water rights holders that domestic wells are impacting their water supply.
Opponents say they don’t hold much stock in the study, and say the move is an attack on their property rights.
With water overallocated in the basin, there’s only so much to go around, commissioners said.
Commissioner Mike Leita said his board isn’t happy about having to regulate rural domestic water, but the system is needed to avoid the construction shutdown Kittitas County faced when senior water rights holders there sued the county, saying a proliferation of rural domestic wells was affecting their water supply.
“We are doing things here that are not pleasant to the board, but are necessary to move forward,” Leita said.
Commissioners have said the county has acquired enough senior water rights to allow for about 1,000 homes to be built over the next decade.
Revenue from the water utility will be used to purchase more senior water rights so future rural development can continue.