Voluntary program offers balance for water needs


The Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership is working to maintain a long-term perspective, and embrace creative water problem solving in a unique 10-year pilot program passed by the Legislature in 2009.

This voluntary program operates under the belief that the key to augmenting stream flows for fish is for water users to employ greater local control and flexibility beyond what conventional management options and regulation can deliver.

The partnership is piloting local water management with four innovative programs:

Working with water users to develop and implement reach-scale "Flow from Flexibility" local water plans.

Operating the Walla Walla Water Bank, which accepts agreements for water conserved in local water management plans, agreements not to divert, voluntary contributions and mitigation transactions.

Operating the Exempt Well Mitigation Exchange, where we buy water and sell credits to provide mitigation allowing new domestic wells to be drilled in the shallow aquifer in higher density rural areas.

Gaining status as a Qualified Local Entity under the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program to acquire water for the purposes of instream flow.

Let's take a closer look at this last program. The CBWTP is the umbrella organization for all water acquisition efforts for the entire Columbia Basin, with program funding coming from the Bonneville Power Administration through the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have also been key in making sure this basin has received a high priority for funding allocations.

The Washington Water Trust has also been active in this basin for water acquisitions, as The Freshwater Trust has been on the Oregon side of the basin. Both of these entities have already completed transactions with a number of water right holders.

This work for water acquisition is something we view as "another tool in our toolbox," to help local water users manage water in a way that can benefit them and the environment. This is an entirely voluntary effort, whereby a water right holder can sell or lease all or a portion of their water right for instream benefit, placing the water in "trust" with the state of Washington.

The value of a person's water right is dependent upon a number of factors, such as priority date, location on a stream and time when the water is available. And of course, one large determining factor for the purpose of this program is the water's importance for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

There can be difficulties when one is negotiating a possible transaction.

But the partnership and the resources we have are available to help smooth out these rough spots, and can absorb transaction costs that otherwise would have to be incurred if the transaction was among private parties.

We recognize there is no "cookie cutter approach" on how to reach agreement on a potential sale of a water right. Each person's situation will be unique, and we are prepared to work with water right holders in manner that would best suit them.

To learn more about all of the different programs we have to offer, go to www.wallawallawatershed.org.

To obtain more information about the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program, go to www.cbwtp.org. And if you would like to have a conversation about the options for managing your water in a different manner, please contact me.

Chris Hyland is the program director for the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership. He can be reached at 524-5217 or at chris.hyland@wwcc.edu.


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