U.S. Water News Online
OLYMPIA -- A bill proposing a web of water policy changes
in the state of Washington is lawmakers' latest attempt to mollify
cities, farmers and other big water users, while simultaneously
The bill would allow farmers to donate unused water without giving
up their water rights. It would set the amount of water that must
remain in streams to support fish migration and also would guarantee
municipal water providers that any unused rights would be protected.
It also encourages new storage and safe drinking water systems.
The House Agriculture and Ecology Committee convened a night
hearing to take comments on House Bill 2993, sponsored by Rep. Kelli
The measure is the brainchild of Gov. Gary Locke's Water Policy
Group -- made up of eight legislators, two of Locke's advisers and
the Department of Ecology director -- created to develop sweeping
water policy reform.
In recent years, lawmakers have done little to reform water laws.
A law was passed last year to make it easier for people to change or
transfer existing water rights. It also allows people to donate their
water back into streams and rivers, without fear of losing the water
This year, Locke made water reform one of his key issues for the
Legislature to address.
Linville's bill is an attempt to give existing stakeholders enough
flexibility to sustain commercial and residential growth while
maintaining enough water in streams for fish.
Water purveyors are lobbying to retain control over unused
portions of their rights so they are available for any growth cities
Farmers contend that the state's current ``use it or lose it''
laws are too restrictive and actually discourage farmers from
conserving. State law dictates water rights be relinquished and put
back into streams if the users are not putting the resource to a
The proposal emphasizes maintaining water levels in rivers and
streams, but does little to satisfy the agriculture industry, said
Dean Boyer of the Washington Farm Bureau.
``This would create a senior water right for fish that would make
people and their needs secondary at all times,'' Boyer said before
the hearing. ``This definitely puts fish over farmers.''
Environmental groups argue that the laws, while adequate, are
loosely regulated and allow farmers to consume more water than
necessary, therefore leaving insufficient stream levels to sustain
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