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Economic and dam related articles

New Columbia River
Water Rights Under Review

by Staff
Environment News Service, January 20, 2008

YAKIMA, Washington - An agreement that could result in new rights to Columbia River water is now available for public review.

Under the proposal, irrigators will help pay for water conservation projects that in turn will allow the Washington Department of Ecology to issue new water rights from the Columbia River.

The Washington Department of Ecology and the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association are proposing the voluntary regional agreement as a way to provide new water for irrigation while at the same time protecting river flows.

The proposed voluntary regional agreement, VRA, is the first regional water management agreement to be considered under Washington's Columbia River water management program that seeks to develop new water supplies for both people and fish.

It is the result of months of negotiations and consultation with regional tribes, fish agencies, county governments and watershed planners.

"This pilot VRA gives us the opportunity to test these new kinds of agreements, to determine how much water that the proposed conservation projects can produce and to put the new 'saved' water to use in the Columbia basin," said Jay Manning, director of the Department of Ecology. Provisions of the agreement require that new water withdrawals not reduce stream flows during the crucial months of July and August, when demand for water is at its greatest both for farmers and for fish.

To qualify for the program, irrigators must maintain and certify advanced water efficiency standards, identify how much water they are saving through conservation and enroll that saved water into the state's water trust program.

Farmers obtaining new water rights will pay an annual fee that will fund future conservation projects managed by the state. In exchange, irrigators may be issued new water rights that will not be interrupted.

Members of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association whose existing water rights may be interrupted during drought years may be eligible for drought permits - water rights they can exercise when their current water use would otherwise be curtailed.

The draft VRA is available online at Ecology's website,

Comments on the proposed agreement will be accepted through February 19, 2008. Submit comments to: LeAnn Purtzer by email.

At the same time, the city of Kennewick will receive up to $1 million from the Department of Ecology to study how to store millions of gallons of Columbia River water in basalt formations under Southridge in Benton County.

The project is being funded by the state's Columbia River water management program authorized in 2006. The program makes $200 million available to explore new water resources from the Columbia River through storage, conservation and voluntary regional agreements.

The city of Kennewick plans to take water from the Columbia River in the winter and store it underground in natural aquifers, thereby reducing withdrawals from the river in the summer. The pilot project will help the state and municipalities learn more about aquifer storage and recovery projects and establish protocols for implementing projects in the future.

Columbia River unit supervisor Dan Haller said that the water management program offers the perfect opportunity to explore projects like Kennewick's.

"Underground storage is appealing because there's no dam construction and the stored water will remain cool and clean and can be released at the times of year we need it most," Haller said.

Aquifer Storage Recovery and Retrieval, ASR, systems like this are known to be operating elsewhere in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Israel. Experts say ASR systems can usually meet water management needs at less than half the capital cost of other water supply alternatives

"Both the city and Ecology recognize benefits of further evaluating ASR as a viable strategy for making additional water available through storage, particularly during critical flow periods of the Columbia River," said Bob Hammond, Kennewick city manager

The first phase of the study - estimated to cost about $200,000 - will analyze whether the current site is viable for an underground reservoir, and how much water might be stored at the site and how the water stored might benefit stream flows and be allocated for out of stream uses.

Actual withdrawal and injection of water into the aquifer through test wells is planned in the second phase of the project, based on results of the initial study.

New Columbia River Water Rights Under Review
Environment News Service, January 20, 2008

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