“Will Kittitas County water now become a commodity for corporate control similar to banks or huge corporations?
As our Washington State representation in Olympia grapples with exempt groundwater access in rural lands, they are looking at how our local Kittitas County leadership has worked with State agencies toward solutions. The recent Supreme Court “Hirst” decision has pushed this topic forward as needing immediate attention. One of the “solutions” on the table is the Kittitas County model of “Private Water Banking” which allows senior water holders the opportunity to transfer their irrigation water permit into a trust and then “mitigate” this usage and change the purpose, duration and diversion of their permits which they can then sell. This is a permit to use water for a single purpose being altered through the State which allows for a public resource “water” to be sold for private gains.
On the front end, this solution gained the favor of the Department of Ecology as it satisfied the needs of those challenging rural water use and met with issues by other water “stakeholders”. These stakeholders include the normal listing of interested parties including Native American Tribes, Senior Water Holders, State, and Federal Agencies and others interested in water. The Water Banking model removes irrigation water from agricultural uses and transfers most of a permit to “in-stream flows” supporting river management, fisheries, and wildlife. This model allows the permit holder to sell at a portion of water not surrendered and profit from his/her permit satisfies Tribal and Agencies concerns with increase river flow and provide the “others” with gains toward their interest. What this model failed to acknowledge and or address are the concerns of those not included as stakeholders; the actual exempt groundwater users, those individuals that trusted that land developed and purchased by them would also be usable.
To be fair, Water Banking has provided water access back to a subset of rural lands but this access now comes with a sizable premium and significant delays and government oversight. While some have seen relief, others wait in the wings hoping for legislative relief but few are looking at the long term effects of this new “new water solution”.
Above, I referred to the STAKEHOLDER list which included “others”; this is the usual list of interested parties pertaining to water usage and their long term interest. Others include the “Water Rights” legal community that has played important roles in getting legislative adjustments to water law allowing their clients safeguards and protections of their permit holdings. This includes the changes to water law allowing for Water Trust Banking and Water Banking as we see in place within Kittitas County currently.
But this list also includes unsuspecting interest which could have very significant long-ranging and long term impacts. The “Others” list includes environmental and corporate interest that see this as control and huge profits by simply buying up available water. Once water (remember this is a public resource) is commercially available for purchase,the environmental and commercial group have the opportunity for wholesale purchasing of the available water supplies. This is actively happening with the land through conservation groups and it will happen in the realm of water also. Private Water Banking provides the perfect opportunity to achieve what was not realized with the implementation of GMA 25 years ago.
The other significant possibility is water will now become a commodity for corporate control similar to banks or a huge corporation. With the monetary capabilities of some global corporations, it would not be a stretch to see entire regions being held hostage simply through the control of water.
I will agree that Water Banking or some form of water use conversion methods are needed within our State, but the Kittitas County water model is not something that should be seriously considered.