28 Sep Yakima County water utility draws skeptical crowd | Local
Officials with Yakima County and the state Department of Ecology were hit with a barrage of questions from landowners and farmers Friday during an informational meeting on the countyâs water utility.
Under the water utility, all new rural development in unincorporated areas of Yakima County must acquire a well permit and meter and pay a usage fee.
More than 60 landowners, farmers, real estate agents and irrigators attended the meeting that was hosted by county and Ecology officials in Union Gap.
One question from the audience was how much rural domestic wells are impacting water availability for agriculture and senior water rights holders, which are superior to junior water right holders.
People also asked officials whether they considered the impact on low income people in rural areas of the Valley when they established the water utility.
It costs about $1,700 for a permit and meter, with an average annual bill of about $200.
âIf you guys are really trying to help us out, thatâs ridiculous,â one person in the crowd said.
Tom Tebb, regional director of the state Department of Ecology, told the crowd that the Yakima Basin is over allocated and a recent state Supreme Court ruling requires counties to prove adequate supply of water and a legal right to it before issuing building permits.
Metering is necessary to quantify the use, he added.
âIf you use more than you have, how do you meter that?â he questioned the crowd.
Under the water utility, residents are allowed to use up to 320 gallons a day for domestic use without incurring additional usage fees.
âThe loss of ability to issue a building permit is one of the worst things that can happen,â Freudenthal said.
Previously, rural domestic wells using less than 5,000 gallons a day were exempt from permit requirements. But with barely enough water for everyone â fish, farmers and landowners â amid frequent drought, thatâs changed.
Having to prove adequate water supply and legal right to use it requires rural builders to acquire water rights.
Kittitas County ended up establishing a water bank with water rights people can purchase, depending on location. Private water banks also offer rights in Kittitas County.
Yakima Countyâs water utility, Freudenthal said, is less expensive than Kittitas County, where it could cost a builder $4,500 in upfront costs compared to $1,700 in Yakima County.
Yakima County had been planning its utility before the court ruling, and in doing so avoided lawsuits and having to enter into settlement agreements.
Kittitas and Benton counties had to enter settlement agreements that resulted in more stringent well permitting requirements, Freudenthal said.
Yakima Countyâs water utility took effect in January 2018. So far, the county has approved 128 well permits for rural domestic use with 33 of them in full operation.
Freudenthal said he wasnât surprised by the questioning of the water utility.
âItâs stuff that we hear all the time,â he said. âI think there are people who think there are barriers that donât really exist.â