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Yakima River Basin water rights case nears end after 40 years

Yakima River Basin water rights case nears end after 40 years

WASHINGTON -- The largest water rights case in the state is now almost finalized after 40 years.

The Acquavella water rights case of 1977 came about from a drought and concerns over having enough water.

"Before this was a state people could come in and divert water from rivers and creeks and they used them for irrigation," said Department of Ecology Regional Communications Manager Joy Redfield-Wilder.

But drought concerns changed all that.

The Acquavella case allots surface water from the Yakima River based on seniority of farmers who pioneered the area. Redfield-Wilder said senior water rights are for landowners established in the 1850s to 1905. There are junior water rights from that point on.

However, rationed water by hierarchy and droughts in recent years have caused turmoil in the valley.

"In the last several years we've experienced drought and people have had their water cut off," said Redfield-Wilder.

The past four decades have been spent establishing proof of historical use by water rights holders. Redfield-Wilder said receipts and newspapers were among the evidence presented in court.

"It was a painstaking and tedious process because they actually had to establish the year and the date," said Redfield-Wilder.

The Yakima River is the primary source of water, with the basin covering Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, and Klickitat counties.

But now with nearly 2,500 water rights confirmed for individuals, and 30 for major irrigation districts; cities; projects, and Yakama Nation rights, the case has neared a close with talks of compromise.

"Now we're looking for these collaborative solutions where you might sell some water to your neighbor, or share, and this is a big economic concern in the basin," said Redfield-Wilder.

Irrigation is critical with an annual $4 billion farming industry in Washington, making water rights an important component.

"Maybe if we collaborate we can all move forward together; and that took 40 years, in some cases, to get there," said Redfield-Wilder.

Among three irrigation districts in the case, Sunnyside Valley is the only one to settle its claim back in 1994 as a senior water rights holder.

There is an open house scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 6 for more information on the case. It will be at the Department of Ecology's office located at 1250 W. Alder St. in Union Gap from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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