Partnership launches project to redraw Walla Walla Valley water-use rules

The voluntary program would give landowners more flexibility to avoid the 'use it or lose it' provisions in the state water code.

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WALLA WALLA -- An effort to create a new way to manage water in the Walla Walla Valley is under way.

At a recent meeting, the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership Board approved the start of work on a project to allow water-right holders to create individual water plans, said Cathy Schaeffer, partnership executive director.

In a break from conventional practices, the voluntary program would give landowners more flexibility to use their water and enhance stream flows without them becoming subject to the "use it or lose it" provisions in the state water code.

The ultimate aim is to find ways to enhance stream flows to benefit fish while still providing water needed by growers and others, Schaeffer said.

The program would also seek to develop specialized projects to augment flows and develop "water banking," a mechanism that would allow water-right holders a way to use only a portion or none of their water without being subject to relinquishment.

Schaeffer said the partnership hopes to open the program for participation by the spring.

Development of the program is a result of a watershed planning effort that began in 2000 involving local water users, conservation groups, citizens, tribes and governments in the Walla Walla River basin, Schaeffer said.

The result of the effort was legislation passed this year to create the watershed partnership as a 10-year pilot program to manage water in the basin by collaboration between groups instead of through state oversight or litigation.

Participating members are Walla Walla and Columbia counties; the city of Walla Walla; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; Columbia County and Walla Walla County conservation districts and local citizens representing water-right holders, environmental interests and citizens at-large.

The partnership board meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesdays of the month at Walla Walla Community College Water & Environmental Center. The next meeting will be Nov. 3.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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