DNR Focused on Protecting Water Right Assets

irrigated cropsThe Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages more than 300 water right certificates and permits that it holds in addition to water right claims in many cases. These water rights are used primarily for irrigation on state trust lands leased for agriculture uses.

As stewards of these water rights, DNR is responsible to effectively manage these rights to produce revenue for public schools and other state trust beneficiaries. We also are responsible to protect these rights from relinquishment. DNR is moving toward using the Washington State Trust Water Rights program to protect these rights for future uses on state lands and to allow increased flexibility in water management on agriculture leases.

“The Washington State Trust Water Rights program provides a way to legally hold water rights for future uses without the water right relinquishing. Water is held in trust to benefit groundwater and instream flows, and other beneficial uses.” (Department of Ecology website, 2014)

irrigation system-Water rights can be held in trust permanently or for short periods of time as temporary donations. With the added ability to donate groundwater rights, as well as surface water rights, to the program, DNR gains flexibility and options for protecting water rights that rely exclusively on wells for withdrawing irrigation water. As an example of this flexibility, DNR can choose to donate its water rights, in whole or in part, to the Trust Water Rights program for a specified period of time when it anticipates using less water. By temporarily donating the water right to the program, DNR is able to protect the State’s water assets and, at the same time, provide benefits to surface water and groundwater resources.

The program is a particularly useful tool for DNR to consider in protecting its water rights during periods when irrigation infrastructure is under development, crop types and water demand are changing, or in other periods of transition that may reduce water use. For example, on one of DNR’s large agriculture leases a farm-scale transition of crop type and irrigation system was planned. During the development period, the old crop and irrigation infrastructure had to be removed and new system installed and crop planted. It took a considerable amount of time for the lessee and DNR to successfully complete the project. In the interim, DNR wanted to ensure that its water rights remained intact so the agency temporarily donated the water to the Trust Water Program to protect the water right during the project’s development. Once the project is completed or as the crops are incrementally planted, DNR will have the ability to remove the water from the Trust Water Rights program and begin using it again for irrigation.