Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, May 12, 2008

"WSU, Ecology state their case; Entities ask Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board to stick to water rights ruling"

The silliness continues.

Meanwhile, I understand one of the appellants in this case was recently seen and photographed on the putting green at Palouse Ridge. One thing we never run out of in Pullman is bullshit.

From last Friday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Ecology have asked that a panel of judges uphold its recent ruling regarding WSU's water rights, despite conservationists' request for reconsideration.

Sarah Mack, a Seattle-based attorney representing the university, and Washington assistant attorneys general Alan Reichman and Sarah Bendersky have submitted documents requesting that the three-member Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board maintain its April 17 ruling. The board determined that a 2006 ruling by the Department of Ecology allowing WSU to consolidate its water rights did not harm nearby water users tapped in to the Grand Ronde aquifer.

The board also determined there was not enough evidence to prove that the state erred in granting the consolidation, and that an analysis of the declining Grand Ronde aquifer does not need to be pursued at this time.

WSU and Ecology's requests to the board are in response to a motion filed late last month by Rachael Paschal Osborn. The Spokane-based attorney with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy represents the Palouse Water Conservation Network, the Palouse Group Sierra Club and Pullman-area resident Scotty Cornelius. They claim the consolidation will allow WSU to annually pump more than three times as much water as it pumps now.

The group also contends that the university has contributed to the dropping levels in the aquifer and point to the 18-hole Palouse Ridge Golf Club as a project that will create more drawdown of the area's primary water source.

Osborn's motion asked that the panel reconsider a portion of their ruling, and require that an analysis of the aquifer be performed. The analysis would determine how low aquifer levels can drop before the state intervenes. The outcome of the analysis, called a "reasonable and feasible pump lift," could lead the state to limit the amount of water used by major pumpers, or put a freeze on water right applications.

Osborn was given a chance to respond to the defendants' comments, and said she did so Thursday. Once her response is received, the board will take both sides into consideration.

The defendants argue that the appellants are way off base in asking for a reconsideration.

"The appellants' argument is flawed because this case involves applications for water rights changes and does not involve applications for new water rights," Reichman and Bendersky wrote in the state's response. "The quantities of water WSU is authorized to pump has not been increased as a result of the changes. Ecology evaluated whether the consolidation would cause interference or interruption to Mr. Cornelius' availability to use his exempt well for domestic water use and determined that it would not. ... the impairment analysis for changes stops here and there is no requirement for ecology to make a pumping lift analysis in the area."

In her response, Mack points to groundwater code, which says the state has the power to determine whether granting permits will hinder existing rights.

She views the appellants appeal "as a vehicle to force Ecology to promulgate a groundwater regulation that would limit aggregate pumping in the Palouse Basin," she wrote. Most significantly, it "glosses over the fundamental fact - established by their own expert's testimony - that changing the location of WSU's pumping will not injure or damage Mr. Cornelius or any other existing groundwater user."

Mack added that the university has made strides to reduce water use, and "has not only met but significantly exceeded water conservation goals and targets in this region."

Osborn continues to stress that an analysis is needed.

"While we disagree with conclusions regarding impacts of WSU pumping on the Cornelius well, that is not the question we are putting before the Board," she wrote in her final response. "Rather, the trigger for applying the 'reasonable or feasible pump lift' arises from the condition of the (Grand Ronde aquifer), regardless of who is causing that condition."

Osborn expects the board to make a quick decision on the request for reconsideration.

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