State program designed to buy private water rights
Last updated 11/24/2021 at 10:57am
OLYMPIA – The state Department of Ecology is offering money for local governments to buy private water rights to make “water banks.”
The program allows counties, cities, towns, water districts, etc. to use Ecology funds to buy private water rights and place them in a government-controlled “bank” using the agency’s trust water right program.
“The goal is to preserve water supplies for local use,” Ecology spokesman Jimmy Norris said.
Not all water bought for the bank would be available for local use.
“To help protect aquatic resources, one-third of each water right bought with this funding must be dedicated (to) instream use,” Norris said.
Ecology officials claim the creation of the banks is to compete against “deep-pocketed water investors” buying water rights in headwater basins.
“As demand for water increases statewide, supplies available for new water uses are increasingly scarce,” Norris said. “As a result, market interest in existing water rights – buying, selling, and banking – has increased dramatically in recent years.”
Under state law, it is easier to transfer water rights downstream than upstream. For that reason, some communities in headwater basins are concerned about the sale of large water rights downstream, Norris said.
The state budgeted $14 million this year to buy private water rights for the program, as well as additional funding to support ongoing policy development to support the program.
The money is available for public entities that have “demonstrated interest in an existing water right, validity of that right for water banking purposes, and sufficient expertise to manage the water bank on an ongoing basis. Additionally, eligibility for grant funding is restricted to rural headwater counties.”