State encouraged to work with private sector on applications

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- Irrigators, landowners, cities and other water users trying to access water for development will no longer have to spend years waiting for their applications to be processed.

Senate Bill 6267, requested by the Washington State Department of Ecology, was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire on April 1. The law, which goes into effect in July, will result in more applications being processed by encouraging Ecology to contract with the private sector to complete some analysis and technical work on the applications.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, had a companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.

Chandler said he voted against a change to the bill in the House that would have placed exorbitant fees on applicants, without a guarantee that the backlog of applications would be shortened or that anyone would receive water. The Senate removed the House amendment.

"We have applicants who have been waiting for a decision for decades," Chandler said in a news release. "A simple increase in funding for the department has only led to the shifting of resources away from water rights."

The governor vetoed two sections of the bill that would have allowed well relocation for ground water rights already issued by Ecology. Wells occasionally need to be moved to within a quarter-mile from original wells that need extensive repair or when ground water is compromised. Those sections vetoed would have codified the practice.

Despite the section vetoes, Chandler said the legislation is still a step forward.

"This recognizes the value of water and improves government efficiency," Chandler said. "These applicants ... are property owners, neighbors and local government officials who want our communities to grow and thrive, and we can't do that without access to water. The bill ... will directly tie costs to services and give applicants an assurance their government is providing value for them."

The Legislature is now in the fourth week of a 30-day special session called by Gregoire. Budget writers have been trying to finalize their budget and tax proposals, including their plan to close the state's $2.7 billion budget shortfall.

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