First report set on watershed management experiment

WALLA WALLA — The first report on a 10-year experiment in watershed management will be presented to state lawmakers next week.

The report from the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership will discuss the progress it has made since being created in 2009 by the Legislature as a test model for managing water resources through local control.

Cathy Schaeffer, partnership executive director, said partnership members are scheduled to present the report to the state Senate Committee for Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development on Thursday.

Since its formation in 2009, Schaeffer said the partnership has been able to pursue one-of-a-kind programs to conserve water and preserve water rights in the Walla Walla River basin. It is the only area among the state’s 62 river basins that has been granted that authority.

Two major accomplishments have been the implementation of water banking agreements and local water plans. The former allows water right holders to maintain ownership of their rights and not be subject to relinquishment for non-use of the banked water during the agreement term.

The local water plans are voluntary agreements between a group of water users, the partnership and the state Department of Ecology to manage water in ways that enhance stream flows for fish while giving irrigators improved flexibility to use their water. The first three plans were approved by Ecology and the partnership last year.

The partnership’s programs “have enjoyed eager adoption by water right holders during its initial three years,” Schaeffer said. The 92 water banking agreements and three local water plans executed to date have deposited 8,870 acre-feet of surface water annually and groundwater rights into the partnership’s water bank for environmental enhancement.

The partnership is governed by a nine-member board representing government, tribal and private sectors. Under the legislation passed in 2009, the board was allowed to take over the duties of the state watershed planning unit.

The 40-page report can be downloaded from the watershed partnership’s website.

The report and accomplishments will also be reviewed at the partnership’s annual meeting on Feb. 5 at the Walla Walla Community College Water and Environmental Center.