Hide Alert

Welcome to our new website. Learn more about what's new.

Columbia River water use compliance

Our watermaster investigates possible unauthorized use along the Columbia River and works with users to bring them into compliance.

Illegal water diversions interfere with those who hold legal rights to put water to beneficial use and limits the amount of water available for economic development and sustaining a healthy environment. This is particularly crucial during low water years and years when droughts are officially declared.

Satellite photo shows cropland circles overlaid with water right boundaries. The photo also shows crops grown outside the boundaries authorized, indicating possible illegal water use.

Satellite photo shows crop circles grown outside the boundaries of an authorized water right, indicating illegal water use.

Assuring fair
and legal water use

Our watermasters work to assure water use is fair and legal. They also work to find water solutions, especially when water must be rationed or curtailed due to drought. They may issue curtailment orders or fines, but always look to solve water problems at the ground level in watersheds.

Water use in the state is authorized by priority date. When water is rationed, those with the oldest water rights receive allocations first, ordered by when the rights were certified. Illegal water use can result in dewatering of streams when endangered fish species need it most for spawning or passage, or denying access to legal water users.

Watermasters employ a multi-tiered approach to bringing unauthorized water use into compliance. Formal enforcement actions are the last, and least used, step. Enforcement is employed when all of the other steps fail to bring the water user into compliance.

Compliance/Enforcement Steps

  • Encourage Voluntary Compliance:
    • Discuss with responsible party
    • Provide technical assistance
    • Agree on course of action
    • Monitor progress.
  • Issue notice of violation:
    • Discuss with responsible party
    • Provide technical assistance
    • Agree on course of action
    • Monitor progress
  • Issue formal administrative order:
    • Discuss with responsible party
    • Provide technical assistance
    • Monitor progress
  • Issue Notice of Penalty

If you have questions about Columbia River mainstem water use compliance or want to report unauthorized water use, please contact our watermaster, Tyler Roberts, at 509-457-7141 or Tyler.Roberts@ecy.wa.gov.