From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Department now has until Oct. 5 to determine fate of proposed shopping center in Pullman-Moscow corridor
The Washington State Department of Ecology now has until Oct. 5 to issue a ruling on proposed water-rights transfers in the Pullman-Moscow corridor after it recently extended its review and decision period by 30 days.
The water-rights transfers were requested by Boise-based Hawkins Companies, which wants to build a 700,000-square-foot shopping facility in Whitman County, just across the state line from Idaho.
Department of Ecology spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said the extension is a common practice, and the department needed the extra time to review and make the decision because of a backlog of cases throughout the state.
"We had too many conservancy board decisions come to us and not enough staff," Gilbert said.
Guy Gregory, senior hydrologist and technical unit supervisor for the Department of Ecology's Eastern Region, said the department often uses extensions to provide time to review complex cases.
"We do that especially in situations that are complex," Gregory said. "Hawkins is one of those situations where a little more time is desirable for us to make our decisions."
The Whitman County Water Conservancy Board approved the transfer request in July, but the Department of Ecology still must give final approval. If Ecology fails to issue a decision by Oct. 5, the conservancy board's decision will stand.
In March, Hawkins Companies applied to transfer 120 acre-feet, or 40 million gallons, of water to its proposed development in addition to applying to transfer 100 acre-feet of a 391-acre-feet water right to Colton in exchange for 23 acre-feet of water.
The city of Moscow and Mark Solomon, a local activist, filed protests over the proposed transfers with the water conservancy board and Ecology in April. They argued the water rights transfers involving Colton and the proposed site did not come from the same body of public water.
However, the board cited an Ecology analysis and ruled that all of the wells associated with the application were in the basalt formations of the Columbia River Basalt Group and would be withdrawn from the same body of public groundwater.
Moscow and Solomon also argued the transfers would deplete area wells and jeopardize a reliable water system.
Hawkins Companies hopes to begin construction as early as this fall, pending Ecology approval.