The Whitman County Water Conservancy Board has approved transfers of three water rights to support a new big box development on the Idaho-Washington state line.  The water rights are being transferred from surface and groundwater sources up to 30 miles distant from the new place of use.  The aquifers targeted for pumping are in dire condition, with water levels declining at the rate of 1-3 feet per year due to existing unsustainable pumping in the region.  Click here for more information on the Grande Ronde Aquifer.
Rationale for the transfers comes from Ecology hydrogeologist John Covert who assured the Board that:
o    “all of the wells associated with this change application are completed in the basalt formations of the Columbia River Basalt Group and will be withdrawing from the same body of public groundwater”
o    “. . . the application is a surface water right to a groundwater change . . . Both the shallow groundwater at the proposed point of withdrawal and the surface water at the original point of diversion, share a common recharge area and are part of a common flow regime.  Given the tributary nature of the groundwater at the proposed point of withdrawal, both the shallow groundwater at the new point of withdrawal and surface water at the original point of diversion, share the same source of supply”
In other words, all Columbia basalt aquifers are considered the same source of supply!  And, the condition of the aquifer (i.e., unsustainable, dropping water levels) is irrelevant.  See the WSU appeal page for more on this problem.
After spending years attempting to get Ecology to stop issuing deep basalt water rights because of impacts to stream flows it is ironic indeed that this rationale – that all eastern Washington water bodies are interconnected – is now being applied to grant harmful water transfers.
Whitman County Hawkins Transfers
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