Construction on the Palouse Ridge Golf Club is nearly complete. Cornelius, the Sierra Club and King Solomon's Palouse Water Conservation Network were just tilting at windmills and grandstanding for the media. Promised next stop for the aquinuts: the Washington State Supreme Court, which I'm sure will promptly decline to hear their case.
A state hearings board has sided with Washington State University regarding the appeal of a water-right decision.
The Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board has determined the appellants did not provide enough evidence to effectively prove that the university’s water rights impairs other existing rights in the area.
The decision was rendered late last week and follows a three day January hearing regarding the university’s application to consolidate its water rights — a practice that would allow WSU to pump water through any combination of its seven wells.
The appellants — the Palouse Water Conservation Network, the Palouse Group Sierra Club and Pullman-area resident Scotty Cornelius — claim WSU’s water right consolidation will allow the university to pump more than three times as much water per year as it currently does. They argue that the university has contributed to the dropping levels in the Grand Ronde aquifer, and point to an 18-hole golf course under construction as a project that will create more drawdown of the area’s primary water source.
Cornelius, who lives outside Pullman, has said his well is decreasing at a rate of 10 inches per year.
WSU currently has the rights to operate seven wells, though two large wells pump a majority of the water needed on campus at 2,500 gallons per minute. Additional wells can be used in case of emergency.
“We conclude a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that consolidation of WSU’s existing water rights will not impair Mr. Cornelius’ well or other existing water right holders,” the decision reads. “In the absence of impairment, we also therefore conclude that the public welfare will not be harmed by Ecology’s approval of these water changes. Finally, we conclude Ecology’s approval ... did not unlawfully ‘enlarge’ the water right represented by that permit.”
The appellants originally argued 40 issues and all but three were resolved in 2004. The remaining issues for the hearings board included whether the state’s decision would impair neighboring water rights, harm the public welfare or enlarge the university’s pumping ability beyond permit’s guidelines.
According to the decision, the three-member board does recognize that the Grand Ronde aquifer is “experiencing a long-term and troubling trend of declining water levels.” But the board members made clear in the hearings that the decision before them would have no bearing on the declining aquifer or how the state should manage groundwater in the area.
“...this case was focused on the much narrower question of whether WSU is legally entitled to consolidate it’s existing water rights in order to be able to pump its currently authorized quantities from a different configuration of wells within it’s integrated cam us water system.