PATEROS — After waiting nearly 30 years, Pateros can allow new housing developments or annexations after receiving a new water right from the state Department of Ecology on Tuesday.
It is the first to receive a new right from the drawdown of Lake Roosevelt, and will be followed by about a dozen other new water right permits this month, and dozens more next year, the agency announced.
Additional rights will be issued soon to support housing developments in Lincoln County, the Chelan County PUD’s Beebe Bridge Park, and a potato washing facility in Walla Walla County. Next year, other North Central Washington cities and small housing developments on the Columbia River will be offered new rights.
It’s all part of a partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that releases water for new rights from Lake Roosevelt, the huge pool of water storage that sits behind Grand Coulee Dam. The program gives 88,000 acre-feet of new rights to agricultural, municipal and industrial uses, and provides 44,500 acre-feet in new river flows below the dam for fish. It will lower the reservoir by about one foot.
Ecology hopes to issue new municipal and industrial rights of about 25,000 acre-feet in the next year.
For Pateros, the additional 40 acre-feet of water, or 13 million gallons a year now available to the town of about 670 residents is enough to add hookups for some 80 new homes.
“This just opened the doors,” said Pateros Mayor Gail Howe, whose town applied for additional water rights in 1993. The town, along with Brewster, Bridgeport and other cities in Eastern Washington, was caught in a backlong of water right applications, and lack of new water to issue those rights.
Howe said Pateros has not been able to grow much because it needed all its water rights for current residents and lots. “We couldn’t even consider annexing anything because we’d be limited on the water,” she said.
She said the new rights will actually be used to water the town’s multitude of parks, and Douglas County PUD will pay the $1,400 annual cost of the new rights as part of the utility’s relicensing agreement for Wells Dam, which requires recreation opportunities.
That frees up existing rights for growth, Howe said.
Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said the Bureau of Reclamation is charging $35 per acre-foot of water, and the state is passing that charge on to those that get new rights.
She said new water rights are only being issued to entities within a mile of the Columbia River — the source of the new water.
She said cities like Brewster, which appears to be opting out of a new water right for now due to the cost, will still have the opportunity for a new right from drawdowns of either Lake Roosevelt or Lake Sullivan, in Pend Oreille County east of Metaline Falls.
“It’s providing more certainty, and moving away from having to battle to get a water right, to being able to draw on an account we know is reliable,” she said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512