From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Development company seeks annual rights to 264 million gallons of waterOf course Solomon will be filing a protest. It's what people do around here. Washington law allows one person or a small group of people to hold up multi-million dollar projects for years for the most frivilous of reasons. In the meantime, the "protesters" get to pontificate to the local media about what "heroes" they are and everyone breathlessly awaits "their next step" after they inevitably lose.
Boise-based Hawkins Companies has applied to transfer annual rights for 264 million gallons of water to its proposed 700,000-square-foot shopping center in Whitman County, just across the border from Moscow.
The development company recently presented the Whitman County Water Conservancy Board with four proposals to reallocate existing water rights to its proposed 110-acre development on the eastern edge of the Pullman-Moscow corridor.
If approved, the water rights would come from Colton, areas along Union Flat Creek and north of Pullman.
As part of the transfers, Hawkins is requesting the annual rights to 74.5-acre feet, or 23 million gallons, that currently flow in the South Fork of the Palouse River be switched to water the company could extract from its wells.
Comparatively, the city of Moscow used 856 million gallons of water in 2006.
If Hawkins' requests are granted, the 264 million gallons would be righted to the company, but that does not mean the company will use that amount.
The water conservancy board will hear testimony on the water right transfers at 2 p.m. March 7 in the Public Service Building in Colfax. Written testimony will be accepted until March 30.
At the end of the comment period, the water board can either deny the application, ask the Washington State Department of Ecology for technical assistance in evaluating the transfer requests, or approve the request and send its recommendation on to the Department of Ecology.
Guy Gregory, senior hydrologist and technical unit supervisor for Ecology's Eastern Region, said the department has 45 days to review an application once it has a recommendation from the water board.
It can extend that period for an additional 30 days if necessary, and any interested party can make an appeal to the Water Rights Pollutions Control Hearing Board after the Department of Ecology reaches a decision.
Additional appeals can be made to the state's superior court system.
"We all want to be very careful with the Hawkins application," Gregory said. "We want to make sure that the Hawkins changes are made properly and the decision is made properly."
Hawkins received a conditional use permit for its development from the Whitman County Board of Adjustment on Feb. 15.
Jeff Devoe, project coordinator with Hawkins, said at the conditional use permit meeting that the water rights reallocation process was time consuming. The company and its contractors reviewed more than 300 water rights in the area to find rights they believed could be transferred.
Some are skeptical if the water right transfers would represent the actual water in the ground and if the water transfers would comply with Washington's water laws.
Mark Solomon, with the Palouse Water Conservation Network, doesn't see how some of the water rights can transfer.
"From what I have seen, they are proposing transfers that are against Washington law," Solomon said.
Solomon said he's holding off filing a critique of Hawkins' plans until it presents its privately funded findings.
"It's safe to say, even without the technical document, that the Palouse Water Conservation Network will be considering filing a protest," Solomon said. "But until we review the document, I can't say definitively."