Water banks

Water banks are a tool to facilitate the voluntary exchange of water rights. They're becoming more common throughout Washington as it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain new water rights to meet growing demands. Water banks exist in many forms and in most western states. Although the approaches may differ, they all share a common goal: to move water between buyers and sellers to where it is needed most.

While anyone may purchase a full or partial water right directly from a willing seller, water banks can streamline the process, provide protection from relinquishment, and allow for greater flexibility. This is especially helpful when a large water right is reallocated to several smaller uses over a large area, which often takes many years to complete. In other cases, water banking is used more like a water swap to transfer one water right to one new water use when the existing right cannot be directly changed to the new use.

Establishing water banks in Washington

Generally, creating a water bank begins with a consultation between us and a would-be banker (usually a water right holder or broker). If we agree that the banker’s proposal is feasible and supports the public’s interests, a water banking agreement may be negotiated to set expectations. All agreements are unique but, generally, the basis for a bank is that at least one water right is conveyed to us to be held in the Trust Water Rights Program and designated for mitigation purposes. We evaluate that right to ensure it is a valid right and that using it to mitigate new uses will not cause impairment to existing rights.

The original use of the banked right ends, but while held in trust, the water right remains in good standing. The water bank can then sell mitigation credits to water users and we can issue new mitigated permits.

In addition to the overarching goal of facilitating transfers, we strive to achieve the following objectives through the creation of water banks:

  • Support public health
  • Promote the state’s economic well-being
  • Preserve natural resources and aesthetics
  • Create a reliable water supply during dry years
  • Ensure a future water supply for people, farms, and fish
  • Promote water conservation

Laws & regulations

Under Chapter 90.42 RCW, we may facilitate water banking through the Trust Water Rights Program.