February 3, 2012 - OPB - 6 Things You Need To Know About Water Rights

Date:
February 3, 2012
February 3, 2012 - OPB - 6 Things You Need To Know About Water Rights

6 Things You Need To Know About Water Rights

EarthFix| Feb. 2, 2012 6:40 a.m.Water rights in Washington state are prettymuch handled the way things are in an old Western – finders, keepers.Here are six things you need to know:

  1. First come, first served: In Washington, water rightsare based on seniority. Senior water rights were claimed before 1905.Senior water rights holders are ensured all of their allocation everyyear. Tribes have “time immemorial” rights, which is pretty much for allof time.
  2. It’s all about the supply (or demand?): Because seniorwater rights holders receive their entire allocation every year, you’reout of luck if there’s not enough water to go around. If there’s notenough water, the farther down on the list you are, the less of a chanceyou’ll receive water.
  3. So what do you actually own?: Hint, it’s not actually the water. You just own the right to use the water. It’s actually just a stack of papers.
  4. Fish need the water, too: Water rights can help protectstream flows for fish. When water is left “instream,” fish are happy.Some of the water management is used to fill creek beds with water oncethey have become dry.
  5. Like the Wild West: Some of the oldest water rightclaims date back to the 1880s. Lisa Pelly, Trout Unlimited’s WashingtonWater Project director, says some of the oldest water rights she’s seenbelong to pioneers settling in Walla Walla, Washington.
  6. Water banking: This is one solution to the watershortage problem. This is when water becomes a commodity, kind of likereal estate that’s managed by the state Department of Ecology. In someeastern and central Washington counties, water is more valuable thanland. Developers can buy senior water rights to create a water bank.Kittitas County in central Washington is serving as a sort of trial runfor water banking in the state.

This story originally appeared through the EarthFix public media collaboration.

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