An option for water rights applicants
The cost reimbursement option allows a private consultant to do the work that our hydrogeologists and permit writers would ordinarily do. This allows us to work with other applicants on their water right applications.
The consultant conducts a site investigation, performs the environmental and hydrogeologic analyses, identifies whether water is available or would impair other water users, prepares a report with his or her findings, and recommends whether to approve the application. We make the final decision on the application.
How does the cost reimbursement process start?
We strongly recommend any applicant considering the cost reimbursement process first consult with us. Start by filling out a water right pre-application consultation form. Our staff will be able to discuss:
- How many other applications are in the same watershed
- Their knowledge of watershed issues
- The likelihood that water will be available
- The various costs involved
What are the advantages?
Cost reimbursement generally results in a quicker decision because the resources of a consulting firm are dedicated to your application. You may receive a decision within months rather than years. The time will vary according to the complexity of the proposal and the number of competing applications that may need to be processed.
Are there disadvantages?
The main disadvantage is cost. Normally, the application fee covers only a fraction of the actual costs of processing a water right application. Those additional costs are paid out of our budget using tax dollars.
With a cost reimbursement agreement, you must pay the full cost of processing your application — including the cost of hiring a consultant. In some cases, you must pay to process any applications filed earlier than yours for the same body of water. In addition to the consultant costs, you must also cover the cost of our staff time spent reviewing the consultant’s work and managing the contract.
You may be able to coordinate with other pending applicants and share the cost through a coordinated cost reimbursement agreement. Processing fees are shared based on the proportionate quantity of water requested by each applicant.
What's the cost?
The total cost can range from a few thousand dollars to, in exceptional cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost varies according to the number and complexity of applications, the cost of the consultant, and the number of hours that we must spend reviewing the consultant’s work.
To gather important data about the effects of your proposed water withdrawal, a consultant may need to drill test wells and perform pump tests. This could add to the costs significantly.
In addition, during the investigation, new issues may arise that were not identified during the initial scoping process. We may then need to amend the existing agreement to expand the scope, increase the budget, or extend deadlines.
How does the process work?
The cost reimbursement process is broken into two distinct phases:
- Phase one includes a thorough analysis of the water source boundaries and other existing applications. This can be done by you and your consultant, or by our consultant.
- Phase two, which must be done by our consultant, consists of preparing technical reports supporting the decision on the water right request.
You will have the opportunity to stop the process at several junctures.
Phase one typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000. If the expected costs are too high, you may choose not to pursue the process any further. If you wish to proceed and would prefer we use our consultant to perform the analysis, a written contract is developed between you and us. You can also stop the process after the phase one analysis is complete. If during phase two we notify you it appears your application will be denied, you can choose not to continue and save the cost of work not yet done.
In phase one, your application would be evaluated to identify the boundaries of the source of water. This is the area that could be affected by a proposed water withdrawal. For groundwater applications, this requires a preliminary delineation of the affected aquifer. It is then necessary to find whether there are other prior applications requesting water from the same source. Phase one will also identify likely issues requiring further evaluation.
If you chose to contract with us to have our consultant conduct phase one, we will provide you with a report that includes the scope and a cost estimate for phase two. If you used your own consultant, their report must be forwarded to our consultant with a request for a scope and cost estimate for phase two (you may choose the consultant from our pre-approved list).
In phase two, our consultant prepares a report of examination for the application(s). This document consists of technical reports that investigate:
- Water availability issues
- The potential for impairing other water right holders
What are the payment options?
In general, there are two payment options for a cost reimbursement agreement. The first is a full pre-payment of the costs identified in the agreement. The second is to provide us with a $5,000 security deposit and we will bill you as we receive invoices from our consultant.
Under the first option, any unused funds are refunded when the project is completed. Under the second option, we will refund your security deposit at the end of the project.
Does a cost reimbursement agreement allow me to jump to the head of the line?
In some cases, yes. Normally, we must process applications for the same source of water in the order they are received. (The oldest, or most senior, are processed first.) RCW 90.03.265 gives us some flexibility. If your water request won’t reduce the water available for senior applicants, you can use a cost reimbursement agreement to process your application without processing the senior applications.
Does an agreement guarantee my application will be approved?
No. A cost reimbursement agreement only provides that a decision may be made. That decision could be approval or denial of your application.
Can I appeal a decision?
You may appeal our decision on your application, but you are responsible for paying the legal costs of your own appeal. The Attorney General's Office would defend our decision on your water right. If a third party appeals our decision, you may be responsible for reimbursing the state for the cost of defending the decision before the Pollution Control Hearings Board. We may negotiate further reimbursement if the decision is appealed beyond the board.