First rights approved for more than 20 years, city to receive 40 acre-feet per year

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Washington state has issued the first new noninterruptible water rights from the Columbia River in nearly 20 years.

The Washington State Department of Ecology on Dec. 13 approved water rights for municipal, domestic and industrial use from Lake Roosevelt, which is behind Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia. The city of Pateros received 40 acre-feet, or 13 million gallons, of water per year.

The rights are part of the state's Columbia River water development program.

According to the department, the Lake Roosevelt permits are the first such rights to be issued on the river since salmon were listed as endangered two decades ago.

"This represents a major turning point in how water is managed along the Columbia River," said Joye Redfield-Wilder, Ecology communications manager. "We now have a pool of water to draw from to issue water rights that isn't threatened by lawsuits or of being turned off during years of drought."

The state will be able to meet the water needs of communities and agriculture and release water for fish at appropriate times of the year, Redfield-Wilder said.

Derek Sandison, director of the department's Office of the Columbia River, said water is lined up for 102,000 acres in the Odessa area, where farmers face a declining aquifer level.

"Our focus, as directed by the Legislature, is to find replacement water for the farms in Odessa that will dry up if we are not successful," he said.

The department has made water available to serve 14,000 acres of Odessa farmland in 2012 and will serve the remainder as infrastructure is put in place, Sandison said.

It's up to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District to put the water on the ground. By mid-2012, Sandison said, the department will have "laid the groundwork" to get water to most of the remainder of the Odessa land.

The department is also working to solve chronic water shortages in the Yakima Basin, where 1 million acres of farmland is subject to yearly curtailment of water.

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