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State dives in on water


New rule allows Ecology to prioritize water storage


By DAN WHEAT


Capital Press


A rule allowing the Washington state Department of Ecology to prioritize and speed up the processing of water rights applications for water storage projects in the Columbia River Basin has been signed by Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.


The so-called Hillis Rule will help bring more water to water-short areas and replace failing public water systems.


The rule allows expediting of aquifer and surface storage projects as long as they don't conflict with state or federal instream flow rules, said Ken Slattery, Ecology's manager of water resources in Olympia.


"Updating this rule is all the more important due to cuts in funding and staff for water rights application processing," he said.


Beneficiaries include research and development of:


* Three water storage sites in the Horse Heaven Hills in Klickitat County to add 105,000 acre-feet of water to the area's water supply. A feasibility study will be done in 2011.


* A well-fed aquifer system for storage of winter surplus water to supplement instream White Salmon River flows in summer.


* Three Chelan County Public Utility District projects.


One would generate 28,000 acre-feet of additional water storage behind Rocky Reach Dam near Wenatchee by raising the reservoir three feet. Two-thirds would be allocated for out-of-stream use and the rest to enhance instream flow during low water.


The second Chelan County PUD project would establish a reservoir in Lower Rock Island Creek near Wenatchee to store 57,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation, homes and industry and more than 28,000 acre-feet of water for instream flow.


The third Chelan County PUD project is potentially pumping water from behind one of its dams to off-channel storage when hydropower demand is low. The water would be used to generate electricity when demand is high with portions for instream and out-of-stream use.


All of the projects are funded with state grants through Ecology's Office of the Columbia River, formerly known as the Columbia River Basin Water Management Program.


Other water banking and public water supply projects throughout the state will also benefit from the rule, said Dan Partridge, Ecology spokesman.


There is a statewide backlog of 7,000 water rights applications, Partridge said. Some of them have been waiting more than 10 years, he said.


The original Hillis Rule resulted from a 1997 state Supreme Court ruling allowing Ecology to prioritize water rights applications for emergency uses, transfers and short-term projects.



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