WALLA WALLA -- A new way to manage water in the Walla Walla Valley is marking its first year.
A "water bank" operated by the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership now has 17 agreements in place between the partnership and local water users. The surface and groundwater rights in the bank total more than 1,562 acre-feet annually, said Cathy Schaeffer, partnership executive director.
That amount is about 14 percent of the annual output from the city of Walla Walla's water treatment plant, said Tom Krebs of the city's Water Division.
Schaeffer said the initial focus of the program has been to enroll water right holders interested in banking all or a portion of their water right in exchange for relief from the "use it or lose it" provisions of the state water code. Participation in the program is voluntary.
Water rights from the Mill Creek, the Walla Walla and Touchet rivers as well as groundwater rights from various locations have been placed in the bank and this water has been used to enhance flows in streams and rivers to benefit endangered fish species.
The water bank is one of the major goals of the partnership, which was created in 2009 by the state Legislature. The 10-year pilot project is unique to the Walla Walla River basin.
Schaeffer said the program has built on a decade of work in the Walla Walla basin involving local water users, conservation groups, citizens, tribes and governments working with state and federal agencies to balance the needs of water right holders while keeping water in rivers and streams needed by endangered fish species.
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