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Final adjudication of Yakima water rights upcoming

A Yakima County court has started the final review process before establishing water rights in the Yakima Basin next year, ending a 40-year-old court case.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on August 18, 2017 10:09AM

The Yakima River flows through Yakima Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, Wash. In 1977, the state Department of Ecology petitioned for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for the use of surface water in the Yakima River Basin.

Capital Press File

The Yakima River flows through Yakima Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, Wash. In 1977, the state Department of Ecology petitioned for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for the use of surface water in the Yakima River Basin.

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima River Basin water right holders have until Nov. 15 to review and object to a proposed final court adjudication of their water rights involved in a 40-year-old lawsuit.

Under the threat of drought in 1977, the state Department of Ecology petitioned for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for the use of surface water in the Yakima River Basin. The resulting court case, Ecology v. James Acquavella and others, began a thorough and binding review of all historical facts and evidence associated with each claim for rights to surface water use in the basin, including Yakima, Kittitas, Benton and parts of Klickitat counties.

Approximately, 3,000 claims were researched by tributary by Ecology and reviewed by the court and parties.

On Aug. 10, Yakima County Superior Court Judge F. James Gavin entered a proposed final decree including a draft schedule of rights detailing each of approximately 2,300 water rights confirmed in a conditional final order years ago and reflecting how they have changed since then.

Water right holders may find the schedule online at www.ecy.wa.gov and find their water right by name, court claim number or certificate number. Copies of the draft schedule of rights are also available at the Yakima County Clerk’s Office and at Ecology’s regional office in Union Gap.

An open house is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Ecology’s regional office, 1250 W. Alder St., Union Gap, for people to ask questions and learn more about the process.

The 2,300 conditionally confirmed water right holders include many municipalities and irrigation districts representing tens of thousands of people, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, an Ecology spokeswoman.

She said she doesn’t know if the approximate 700 claims not confirmed were denied and that some of them may have merged. Conditional confirmations began in 1989, she said.

The draft schedule of rights identifies the quantity of water in acre-feet and the rate of diversion in cubic feet per second to which each water right holder is entitled. The right establishes purpose of use, time of year, point of diversion and gives a legal description of the right’s authorized place of use. Priority dates determine who gets water in drought years.

Washington law recognizes “prior appropriation,” also known as “first in time — first in right.” Tribes have ancestral rights that protect flows for fish. Settlers who filed claims showing they were putting an amount of water to beneficial use on or before May 10, 1905, were granted senior water rights. Rights awarded after that date are junior and subject to first restrictions in drought years.

“Now water users have clarity about their water rights and stability on what they can expect going forward,” said Polly Zehm, Ecology deputy director.

The litigation brought people together to settle claims and laid the foundation for the Yakima Integrated Water Management Plan to address water needs in a collaborative approach, she said.

After Nov. 15, all objections and responses will be posted on Ecology’s adjudication web page. People will have until Feb. 13 to respond to those objections and responses and must mail any responses to the holder of the water right they are objecting to. Any party may reply to those responses by April 14. After that the court will enter a final decree establishing water rights.



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