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February 3, 2011     Cheney Free Press
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February 3, 2011
 

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Page 6 Free Press , Thursday, February 3, 2011 I House committee bills would relax water rights restrictions Proposals establish independent By TIFFANY VU Reporter WNPA Olympia News Bureau A set of bills that could sig- nificantly loosen water rights restrictions received a hearing - and a swell of public reaction - in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee meeting Jan. 25. HBl117, sponsored by Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee), would abolish statutory relinquishment of water rights from Washington state law. Under this bill, water rights may only be revoked in cases of common-law abandon- ment, which requires proof of intent to abandon the right. HB1297, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), would extend the period in which water may be put to use for the purposes of relinquish- ment from 15 years from the current five. The definition of "annual consumptive quantity" would also be modified to reflect this change. Chandler also sponsored HB1054, a statement encourag- ing water rights holders to con- serve water for the purposes of relinquishment. HB1296, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-Cle Elum), would create a new state water commis- sion composed of seven officials: three each elected from western Washington and eastern Wash- ington. The governor would appoint the final member on the advice of the Senate. Hinkle said his bill would not change any existing laws, only the agency administering them. Department of Ecology of- made to abolish relinquishment, water commission ficials "are separated so far from the governor that they can do whatever they want to do," Hinkle said. "We're going to have representatives that will be closer to the people and account- able to the people. There will no longer be hidden agendas that are made into policy." Organizations signing on in support of the bills included the Association of Water and Sewer Districts, the Washington State Grange, aluminum manufactur- er Alcoa and several agricultural groups. "We think that relinquish- ment is the single largest hurdle to users aggressively pursuing conservation strategies in this state," said Chris McCabe, tes- tifying for the Association of Washington Business. "If there is a disincentive for you to con- serve water, if you risk losing it, why would you consider con- serving it in the first place?, Ron Reimann, president of the Columbia-Snake River Ir- rigators Association (CSRIA), expressed little faith in the De- partment of Ecology, alleging i!i!!ii that the department had broken numerous agreements with his group during the past 30 years. "We've probably cut our water usage by a third since 1981," Rei- mann said( "Unfortunately, with the relinquishment laws, every- thing I've conserved I've lost ... I've gone 16 years during which I've had two permits pending .... those haven't been acted on." Ken Slattery, program man- ager for water resources at the state Department of Ecology, said his program is currently dealing with a backlog of 1,500 new water rights applications and about 5,500 change-of-use applications, about 5 percent of which are older than 20 years. The program processed only 350 applications last year. "Prior to the budget cut we took this biennium, we were processing 500 to 600 a year," Slattery said. Slattery also testified that the creation of a new water com- mission would contradict Gov. Christine Gregoire's agenda of consolidating state agencies to save money, while changing the relinquishment statute "would allow people to hoard water rights and create more uncer- tainty," he said, adding that would make it more difficult to issue new water rights. "It's difficult to prove what's in a person's head; which is their intent on whether they wish to abandon a water right or not," Slattery said. "Removing relin- quishment entirely from the water code would ... be going too far." Hinkle responded that the current relinquishment policy "has completely failed. What you have, in fact, is people hoarding water. You know that, I know that." "What we want to do is find win-win solutions that help water users as well as help our govern- ment. Unfortunately, all four of these bills fail in that regard." Darcy Nonemacher, American Rivers Ecology has requested a separate bill, HB1610, to revise water management policies and address disincentives to conservation. Chandler has co- sponsored the bill. Most other testifiers opposed to the bill represented environ- mental-advocacy groups and Native American tribes. Darcy Nonemacher of Ameri- can Rivers, a clean-water ad- vocacy group, said that the relinquishment bills Would create confusion in legislation that was supposed to distribute water more efficiently, resulting in litigation and waste at the state level. "What we want to do is find win-win solutions that help water users as well as help our government," Nonemacher said. "Unfortunately, all four of these bills fail in that regard." Nonemacher was one of several testifying against the bills who suggested the state's Trust Water Rights program could work as a short-term solution to avoid relinquish- ment, but acknowledged that it could take months for water rights holders to put water into the program. Dawn Vyvyan, representing the Yakama Nation and Puyal- lup Tribes, said that the four bills would not allow the state to ad- equately meet its responsibilities to water-rights holders, voicing concerns that conservation mea- sures would prompt consumers to hoard water rights. In addition, Vyvyan said that "the commission bill ... actually further politicizes the question of who has the responsibility over water. The Department of Ecology is doing a fairly ad- equate job and I think should be allowed to continue to do so." To find out more for yourself... For the complete bills and related staff analysis check out the following: Text and analysis of HB1054: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ summary.aspx?bill=1054&year=2011 Text and analysis of HB1117: http://apps.le g.wa. gov/billinfo / summary.aspx?bill=1117&year=2011 Text and analysis of HB1296: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ summary.aspx?bill=1296&year=2011 Text and analysis of HB1297: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ summary.aspx?bill=1297&year=2011 Text and analysis of HB1610: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ summary.aspx?bill=1610&year=2011 BUSINESS & SERVICE DIRECTORY ADI ILT CARE ACCOI INTING ADULT :AMILY HOME APPLIANCE AUTO BODY Appliance Repair For All Your Appliance Repair & Installatmn Needs! 509.559.5678 Contractor #CtIENEAR954D8 Direct ii ACTION ,am-OpPEN,-Fr, I Sand 8. Gravel Crushed Rock Drain Rock Pea Gravel Decorative Rock Basalt Boulders Top Soil * Fill Dirt Compost Sandy Loam Wood, Concrete & Asphalt Recycling 10710 S. 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