State dedicates $2M to valley
The Methow Watershed Council met for the first time Thursday (May 20) since learning the state capital budget would set aside $2 million over the next two years to develop water banks in the Methow River Basin.
“This is going to be the first conversation we’re having but certainly not the last,” said Soo Ing-Moody, Twisp mayor and chair of the council said at Thursday’s meeting.
The state capital budget appropriated $14 million total — $2 million of which is dedicated to the Methow Basin — to the Department of Ecology for a pilot program to create region-specific water banks. The banks, administered by Ecology, would keep water rights within their basin of origin, and keep them from expiring for lack of use, Ecology staff told the Methow Valley News.
Applicants must be a public entity or an organization such as a nonprofit in partnership with a public entity. Any county or watershed that has a headwater of a major river can apply.
The Methow basin was singled out in the bill because of concerns from community members over demand for water rights from corporations seeking to move those rights downstream, Ecology staff said.
Water rights can be transferred from property to property with review from the state as long as other water rights holders are not harmed. According to Ecology, it’s often easier to move a water right downstream, but difficult to move it back upstream.
Ing-Moody noted that several groups were advocating for funding for water rights issues in the Methow Valley. While it initially looked like there could be money for just agricultural water rights, this program could bank rights for any kind of water usage. In addition, one-third of any water right banked using the $2 million in funding would need to be set aside for in-stream flow, Ing-Moody noted Thursday.
The Methow Valley Watershed Council was created in 1999 and was responsible for drafting the Methow Watershed Plan in 2005. The board has nine members representing Twisp, Winthrop and Okanogan County and geographical areas in the Methow, in addition to at large positions.
Thursday’s discussion of the available funding and water banks in the Methow was general, but Ing-Moody said she plans to have speakers from Ecology at the June meeting so council members could have a more in-depth discussion about how starting a water bank would work and get answers for some of their more technical questions.
Water rights allow their owners to use surface water from a river or lake for a variety of purposes, and are typically attached to a piece of land. A water right that isn’t used can expire.
A water bank can simplify transfers of water rights between users in the Methow Valley while keeping unused rights from expiring, Dave Christensen, program development and operations support section manager for Ecology’s water resource program, explained to the Methow Valley News earlier this month.
“It’s a mechanism that facilitates the transfer of water rights between willing buyers and sellers,” Christensen said. “It basically holds that water in a way that buyers can over time access that water and the seller isn’t at risk to losing that water through relinquishment.”
Local organizations told the Methow Valley News earlier this month that spending the $2 million as wisely as possible to preserve local water rights would require the cooperation of a number of local entities.