“Whiskey’s for Drinking – Water’s for Fighting” so says Mark Twain. Here in Yakima, we know the importance of water. The diversion of water for irrigation is at the heart of Yakima culture and economic vitality.
Recently, Prudential Almon Realty agents heard from Teresa Mitchell of the Department of Ecology. Teresa spoke at Prudential’s monthly Business Meeting about the importance of Water Rights, how they were assigned and how they are lost. She shared what types of wells are exempt from a Water Right Permit, and other details surrounding the legal use of wells for irrigation and consumption.
Many homes in our area are served by wells, and some current users are using more water than allowed. Generally speaking, a domestic well can be used for household water, for irrigating a non-commercial lawn and garden of up to ½ and acre, and for watering livestock. With the exception of watering livestock, these wells are limited to a maximum draw of 5000 gallons per day.
Wells of this type are exempt from the requirements of a Water Right Permit, but only when used within these limitations. With all the large lots and multi-acre parcels in our area, it’s not uncommon for a homeowner to water a garden that is bigger than the half acre maximum. The local Ecology Department is stretched thin, and they are not out looking for opportunities to enforce the water use regulations, still, fair use of this precious resource is important to all of us.
A Water Right Permit is required for commercial or agricultural use of well water. These Water Rights are hard to come by and no new permits have been issued since the 1980’s. The issuance of Water Rights is impacted by all the various competing stakeholders, and since a lawsuit was filed in the 1970’s, water has become a scarce commodity. Those with Water Rights must continuously use the water or risk the loss of the permit due to non-use. If a property is not irrigated for five consecutive years, the Water Right may be lost. This use-it-or-lose-it component of the regulations can catch many permit holders unawares if they stop farming for a period of time.
The statue for water rights in our state was written in the 1940’s and most people familiar with modern water use issues claim the statue is too antiquated to serve our needs today and is badly in need of updates. From hydropower to fish and wildlife, from agriculture to land developers, from city officials and members of local tribes, everyone has a vested interest in the fair and conservative use of this scarce and diminishing resource.
When purchasing a home, it is important to understand what type of water the property is served by. A public water system can be relied on for safe and consistent water. Well water does not come with a monthly bill (save for the electricity to pump it) but there is equipment to maintain, and the water quality must be tested regularly to ensure it is safe to drink. There is also the possibility that a well can run dry.
Most purchasers will include a well inspection contingency in their offer. This allows the buyer to conduct water purity as well as flow test to determine an adequate supply of water. If a well is found to be contaminated, most are easily disinfected. Having this testing done will give a home buyer peace of mind when buying a home served by a domestic well. Some domestic wells can serve more than one home. When three or more homes are served by a single well, it is usually termed a “Community Well” and can then be regulated by the Yakima County Health Department.
Irrigation water from an irrigation district is very different from irrigating from a well. This is the primary source for irrigation water for most farms in our area, and also serves many of our residential areas. Homeowners served by these irrigation districts have the benefit of low cost water allowing them to grow lush lawns and abundant gardens. This simple resource saves these homeowners hundreds of dollars each year over irrigating using city water.
Research on water rights, well logs and other information can be found at the Department of Ecology’s website. Or contact Water Resources personnel at 509 575-2490 who will answer most of the questions you might have. Learn what your rights and responsibilities are so you can be a conscientious user of these precious and limited, maybe even shrinking, resource.