U.S. Water News Online
YAKIMA, Wash. -- It could be clear by late fall whether a
settlement can be reached in the largest water-rights lawsuit in
state history, litigation which has been ongoing since 1977.
In a recent progress report to the Yakima County Superior Court,
mediator Jerry Cormick said progress is being made with individual
irrigation district issues now, and it should be evident by November
whether the broader basin-wide issues can be resolved.
``We would know by that date whether we can reach agreement on the
total package,'' he said outside the courtroom.
The dispute involves 40,000 water users and multiple irrigation
districts in the Yakima River Basin, along with the federal and state
governments, the Yakama Nation, and the cities of Yakima and
The case, being overseen by Pro Tem Judge Walter Stauffacher, will
decide who gets how much water and whose water rights have precedence
here in the irrigated orchard country of central Washington.
The water supply for 460,000 acres is managed by the U.S. Bureau
Lawyers are not discussing details of the negotiations in public
and, in fact, most of the details so far are not even provided to the
court in the event the case cannot be settled.
One of the key issues has been whether irrigation districts
relinquish their rights to their water allocation if they don't use
all of it. Lawyers for the irrigation districts have called
relinquishment a disincentive to conserve.
To date, agreements in principle for settling the case have been
reached with the Yakima-Tieton and the Kennewick irrigation
Stauffacher has granted multiple extensions to the parties
involved to continue mediation. Monthly progress reports are made to
The complex case began in 1977 when the state Department of
Ecology went to court to resolve a number of ongoing water disputes.
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