Metering Water Use

Current Activities

Persistence pays!  CELP is delighted with the progress being made by the Department of Ecology to meter water uses in many of the watersheds around the state, including 16 fish-critical basins and the Columbia mainstem.   It is time to think about expanding the metering program to all basins in the state where threats exist to aquatic health or water quality. 

This year CELP is pressing for:

oStatewide metering (see our Science Infrastructure Essentials proposal) to help understand changes to water supply caused by a warming climate

oElectronic metering requirements, in order to make collection, transmittal, storage of and access to data substantially more efficient and cost-effective

oBetter measurement of water conservation savings

oBetter protection of trust water rights dedicated to instream flows

oIncreased public access to metering data


Although CELP and other environmental groups successfully challenged the Department of Ecology's failure to follow the law requiring metering of water withdrawals and diversions in 2001, to date Ecology has not fully complied with the court order. Although Ecology sent out 713 orders for 903 water rights to water right holders requiring them to meter their water use and report it to Ecology, to date many of those water right holders have not actually complied by installing meters or reporting their water use to Ecology.

Ecology did adopt a new metering rule, which became effective on January 21, 2002.

According to this rule, the following water withdrawals and diversions must be metered and metering data reported regularly to Ecology:

          o All new surface water permits;

          o New and existing surface water rights where the diversion of any volume of water is from waters containing depressed or critical salmon stocks;

          o New and existing ground water rights where Ecology concludes that the withdrawal of any volume of water may affect surface waters containing depressed or critical salmon stocks; and

          o Existing surface water rights where the diversion volume exceeds one cubic foot per second.

Additionally, the Legislature made approximately $3.4 million dollars available to cover 50 to 85 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing required meters. Ecology has transferred most of this money to local Conservation Districts and entered contracts with them so they can distribute funds until, in some cases, June 2006.

CELP's Action

CELP has been meeting regularly with the Department of Ecology over the last two years to bring it into compliance with the court's order. The ultimate goal is to achieve full compliance with the court order, AND the law. We have negotiated a work plan that is resulting in Ecology's slow but steady progress toward gathering water use data in the 16 "fish critical" watersheds. Ecology is finalizing the development of a comprehensive statewide database to track this metering information, and we hope to see it "up and running" and ready to be populated with data by June 2006.


In March 1999, CELP, along with American Rivers, Washington Environmental Council, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and Institute for Fisheries Resources filed a lawsuit challenging Ecology's failure to require metering of certain water withdrawals and diversions.  In March 2000, the Thurston County court ordered that 80% of water use in the state's 16 fish-critical watersheds be metered and reported to Ecology. These 16 watersheds include the Cedar-Sammamish, Chambers-Clover, Duwamish-Green, Elwha-Dungeness, Methow, Middle Snake, Naches, Nooksack, Okanogan, Puyallup-White, Quilcene-Snow, Snohomish, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and the Lower and Upper Yakima basins.

Ecology was ordered to develop a compliance plan and achieve metering of 80% of the water used in these 16 watersheds by the end of 2002.

Trying to manage water without monitoring and enforcing limits on groundwater extractions is akin to a bank trying to manage money without ever keeping track of withdrawals. Water metering and the reporting of water use, answers the elemental question of how much water is being used under valid water rights and claims. Meters provide an instantaneous measure of the rate at which water is diverted or withdrawn, as well as a measure of the overall quantity of water diverted or withdrawn over time. Metering is a critical tool to ensure water users do not exceed the limits of their rights. Metering data can be combined with stream flow data, where stream gauges exist, to monitor and assess the cause of changes in river flow.


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