We recently made several decisions on requests for new uses of water from the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer that will further protect the Spokane River. Groundwater use from the aquifer is directly connected to the river, which is protected by an instream flow rule.
The rule set specific flow levels and limits future surface and groundwater withdrawals — to ensure there is enough water to meet the current and future needs of people, fish and wildlife.
Our team evaluated 10 applications requesting more than 11,000 acre-feet combined of additional water use each year. Several of the requests were to increase the amount municipal water providers could use and a few were for small irrigation projects.
Each application was individually evaluated against the “four-part test.” To issue new water rights in Washington, we must verify:
- Water is legally and physically available.
- Water is used for beneficial purposes in a specified amount.
- The water use does not interfere or degrade existing water users’ ability to perfect their rights.
- The water use upholds the public’s interest, including preservation of environmental, public health and navigational values.
Because the river’s flow is protected by rule, all requests for increases in annual water use were denied — the applications did not pass the four-part test.
Fortunately, municipal water suppliers hold sufficient water rights that are senior to the rule, which is enough to accommodate anticipated growth and development in the region.
Two applications out of the 10 were approved because they only requested changes to increase the amount of water that can be pumped at one time, instead of an overall request for more water to be used each year.
Protecting streamflow is important
State law requires that enough water is retained in streams and rivers to protect and preserve instream resources and values such as fish, wildlife, and water quality. Instream flows have been set covering nearly half of the state’s watersheds and the Columbia River.
The Spokane River is the heart of the region and by managing local water supplies we can preserve a clean and flowing river for generations to come.