Lewis County plans to establish water storage program to help close supply and permit gaps

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By Eric Rosane / [email protected]

Lewis County is in the early stages of putting in place a water reserve system to overcome the supply and licensing issues that have plagued residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial customers for years.

The Lewis County Council of Commissioners heard a presentation on Tuesday from Aspect Consulting, a contractor who is currently writing a preliminary report for staff and commissioners.

It is likely that the county will have to purchase water rights to start its bank, which in itself could be an expensive endeavor, although funding through a pilot project to establish new banks in the department of ecology in Washington State will open on November 17. .

Sources of “seeding” or acquiring proper water rights can also prove difficult, although Aspect has identified three sources the county may consider purchasing from the market soon: part of the TransAlta Water Bank and the irrigation rights of Marwood Farms and Toledo-Land of the Golden Eagle area of ​​the United States.

Lewis County Director Erik Martin said local water rights are just hard to secure right now for developers, farmers and others.

“They are often stuck in the ecology department for years when some people need access to water rights,” he said. “The point is, if the county had a water rights bank, it would in some cases make it much easier to access, whether for development, agriculture, or whatever the reason.”

Water banks are broadly defined by the Department of Ecology as moving “water between buyers and sellers where it is most needed. Water banks in Washington help mitigate new uses by reserving a right to water so that it can be attributed to new uses that would otherwise infringe existing water rights. ”

Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, who pitched the idea, said the county will not try to reinvent the wheel on banking. The county will likely base its program on similar active banks overseen by the Department of Ecology, but will need to base its service and function on the needs of the surrounding communities and watersheds.

“We’ll have to adapt it to our unique needs here,” Pollock said.

For example, having additional water rights available through a bank could help ‘hot spot’ communities, such as near Boistfort, Pe Ell and the Birchfield development in Onalaska that need municipal use, according to the Aspect ratio.

There are currently no long-term reserved water rights for future commercial and industrial uses in Lewis County, and Aspect has classified these uses as “high priority” due to the potential for job creation and increase in tax revenues.

Mike Gallagher, the Department of Ecology’s Southwest Region Water Resources Officer, said the Lewis County case and circumstances for the development of a water bank are quite unique to the nature of the development of trusts in Washington State.

As TransAlta shuts down its last coal burner in 2025, the rights to the company’s water bank will likely be sold to different entities and municipalities.

These superior rights – established in 1966 – are valuable, especially at the state level, Gallagher said, because they offer year-round withdrawal, as opposed to irrigation rights which are often seasonal.

“This is a very good future benefit of providing water for municipal, agricultural and industrial uses – from Skookumchuck to Grays Harbor,” he said.

Pollock said that these water rights in the TransAlta water bank would depend on keeping the Skookumchuck Reservoir dam in operation after the company’s coal divestiture in 2025. There have been discussions about the possibility of tear down the dam to benefit fish populations.

Unlike most of the western shores, Lewis County would benefit from such constant water availability through TransAlta. Kelsey Collins, the Ecology Department’s statewide water coordinator, said there was often not enough “top storage” – think glacial lakes and other springs – to meet the demand. demand on the western shores.

Eastern Washington often has the opposite problem: too much water supply and not enough demand.

“I think people see the shores on the east side of the mountains as ‘let’s do this everywhere’,” Collins said, when they can’t.

Many banks established in the Yakima Basin, for example, hold rights to federal headwaters and have already been the subject of a judgment, which gives them special circumstances.

In July, the Washington state legislature decided to allocate up to $ 14 million in funding to help grant applicants purchase rights to develop banks to protect local use and maintain flow rates. Lewis County will likely be among those applying for such a grant as part of the pilot project. The funds associated with the management and creation of the water bank could also be offset by fees.

Gallagher said grant recipients who establish banks will be required to reserve one-third of the rights to their fund for zero use in perpetuity.

Aspect Projects said water rights in western Washington are currently selling for between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000 per acre-foot, and that TransAlta’s blocks have been offered for around $ 2,750, although no sale has been made at this price.

Skagit County is one of the few municipal governments in the west to have recently formed a water bank in conjunction with the Department of Ecology, albeit for different reasons than Lewis County.

A 2013 Washington State Supreme Court case known as the Swinomish ruling found that the state did not have the power to establish isolated reserves, or a defined supply of water, to use in the Skagit Basin as this would be inconsistent with state laws. protect flows for fish and their habitat, Gallagher said.

The bank was created in 2018 and 17 houses not covered by the decision received priority rights, according to the Ministry of Ecology. The bank now serves around 100 households.

Aspect recommended Lewis County to prioritize the use of banks for industrial and commercial purposes, although Gallagher said he expects part of the county bank to offset some of the 4 500 new license-exempt wells to be constructed in the Chehalis basin over the next 20 years.


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