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Regulatory Handbook -> Water Resource Permits -> Water Right, New

Water Right, New

What is the Purpose of this Permit?
The waters of Washington State collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, individuals or groups may be granted rights to use them. A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated purpose. This purpose must qualify as a beneficial use. Beneficial use involves the application of a reasonable quantity of water to a non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few.

State law requires most users of public waters to receive approval from the state prior to using water - in the form of a water right permit or certificate. Any use of surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, or springs) which began after the state water code was enacted in 1917 requires a water-right permit or certificate. Likewise, withdrawals of underground (ground) water begun from 1945 onward, when the state groundwater code was enacted, require a water right permit or certificate - unless the use is specifically exempt from state permitting requirements.

While "exempt" groundwater uses are excused from needing a state permit, they still are considered to be water rights and are subject to all other provisions of the water code. All groundwater withdrawals require a water right permit or certificate, with the following exceptions:
  • Stock watering.
  • Single or group domestic purposes using less than 5,000 gallons per day.
  • Industrial purposes using less than 5,000 gallons per day.
  • Watering a lawn or non-commercial garden that is not larger than one-half acre.
Who Issues this Permit?
Department of Ecology
What Activities Require this Permit?
To withdraw water and put it to beneficial use except those uses exempted from permitting under RCW 90.44.050 (as listed above).
How Much Will this Permit Cost?
Application: Varies depending on amount of water, $50 minimum. The fee to appropriate new water will be assessed at the rate of $1 per one hundredth cubic foot per second (cfs), and the fee for new water-storage projects will be $2 per acre-foot of storage. The maximum application fee to appropriate or store water is $25,000.
Where Can I Get the Application for this Permit?
The application which is called 'Application for a Water Right' is online and can be accessed at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/summarypages/ecy040114.html.
Do I Need to Include Anything with my Application?
You should include the minimum $50 filing fee together with your application. Ecology will notify you if there are any additional fees due. BUT as application fees are non-refundable, Ecology strongly urges you to take part in a Pre-application Consultation before spending the money, time, and effort to complete and file your application. We want to understand your water supply needs, and give you our perspective on risks, opportunities and alternatives. For more information, go to https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Permits-certifications/Water-rights-permits.

Complete and submit the pre-application form:
  • Download and complete the Pre-Application Consultation Form. Do your best to complete all sections of the form and we will discuss any incomplete sections at the pre-application consultation meeting.
  • E-mail the completed form to wrPreApp@ecy.wa.gov. If you cannot e-mail to us, mail the completed form to the appropriate regional office.
  • Wait for Ecology to contact you to schedule a pre-application meeting or phone call if you can't travel to a regional office. Our goal is to contact you within 48 hours. In most cases, a meeting will be held within 10 business days following the submission of the pre-application consultation form.
Is the Decision on my Permit Dependent on Anything Besides the Information in my Application?
The purpose of the pre-application meeting is for us to learn more about your proposed project and to provide you with information about issues that relate to the decision on your application, such as:
  • Water availability.
  • The status of pending applications.
  • Anticipated processing timelines.
  • Application requirements, fees, and information needs.
  • Water resource regulations specific to your location.
  • Alternatives.
  • Qualifications for priority processing.
  • Cost reimbursement options.
  • Ecology contacts.
You can bring any professional staff (e.g., engineers, hydrogeologists or attorneys) that you feel are necessary to address technical questions which Ecology staff may have.
How Long Will it Take to Review my Application?
The processing time for a new water right application is indefinite. There is no statutorily or administratively prescribed decision timeline.

A significant backlog of pending water right applications exists and the average application has been pending for more than 14 years. The actual time will vary according to location, water availability, complexity, and the number of other applications competing for the same source of water.

Opportunities to expedite processing are available via the cost reimbursement process. In addition, an application may qualify for priority processing due to public health and environmental reasons (See WAC 173-152).
Where do I Submit my Application?
Pre-applications:
E-mail the completed pre-application form to wrPreApp@ecy.wa.gov. If you cannot e-mail to us, mail the completed form to the appropriate regional office.

Applications (with $50.00 fee):
DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY
CASHIERING SECTION
PO BOX 47611
OLYMPIA, WA 98504-7611
Schematic:
View the schematic
How Long is my Permit Valid?
A water right permit must be put to use within a timeframe specified by the permit's development schedule. Once the permit has been put to use, the state may issue a Certificate of Water Right. A Water Right Certificate is a property right and will remain in good standing as long as use continues. A water right may lapse if there is a prolonged period of nonuse, (generally five years) unless there is good cause.
What is the Appeal Process for the Permit?
An applicant or any interested party has a right to appeal this permit decision to the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) within 30 days of the date of receipt of this permit. The appeal process is governed by Chapter 43.21B RCW and Chapter 371-08 WAC. “Date of receipt” is defined in RCW 43.21B.001(2).

You must also comply with other applicable requirements in Chapter 43.21B RCW and Chapter 371-08 WAC.

Read the Pollution Control Board’s Appeal Process web page for more details.
Permit Timeliness Results

Permit Timeliness data collection is in response to a State Auditor’s Performance Audit and RCW 43.42A. Each regulatory agency developed a plan to improve permit clarity, predictability, and timeliness. Each agency considers the customers experience to ensure permit assistance is simple to use, easy to access, and designed in a customer-friendly manner. Agencies report progress to the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA). ORIA prepares and distributes reports, with participation from the State Auditor’s Office and Results Washington. See latest report here: https://www.oria.wa.gov/ORIA-2018-PermitTimelinessProgressReport.pdf.

All permits submitted for reporting were entered into this Regulatory Handbook. Here are the results of the performance data:

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Process a Permit Application (Definition)
Average number of days from Receipt to Complete: 35
Maximum number of days from Receipt to Complete: 1114

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Issue a Permit Decision (Definition)
Average number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 2687
Maximum number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 10549

(Summary results based on 47 submittals in 2020)

Where can I get permitting assistance?
Subject matter expert phone: Contacts
Statewide Contact:
Department of Ecology
Water Resources Program
Headquarters
300 Desmond Drive
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
Fax: (360) 407-7162
Telephone: (360) 407-6872
Website: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/wrhome.html
* Permit information last updated 2/12/2020
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