Agencies initiate groundwater management improvement efforts in the Pasco Basin

PASCO, Wash. — For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) is working to improve groundwater management in the Pasco Basin after the state legislature revised certain authorities in 2021.

That legislation is key for the DOE and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who are now working together on co-management strategies for the groundwater in the area,

There are two types of groundwater in the Pasco Basin — the first is naturally occurring and managed by the DOE. The second is the return flows that come down from water used in the Columbia Basin Project that is then sold to irrigators for crops and managed by the bureau.

Stephanie May, the communications manager for the Eastern Region for the DOE, said the agreement will “help us make new groundwater supplies available for beneficial use in the ground in the Pasco Basin.”

“We want to make sure that we understand how much groundwater is available and by partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, we’re able to do that and give out the proper water rights,” May said. “There’s always been a level of uncertainty when it comes to groundwater rights in the area. For a lot of folks, it’s going to really add some clarity and certainty about what water is available.”

Giving out those rights is necessary for the hundreds of water permits under the current interim rule.

May said the first step in the lengthy process is to set a boundary to “really define what the area is.”

The second is to hear input from the community and those affected.

“We are looking for engagement from folks in the Pasco Basin. We really want to make sure that they feel heard and that we are using their input to draft this information and this rule to make sure that it really is beneficial to everyone involved,” May said.

DOE officials said they hope to host public workshops where they encourage comments, questions, and concerns by mid to late 2024.

They are working to have an effective rule by October 2025.

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