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Regulatory Handbook -> Water Resource Permits -> Water Right Change

Water Right Change

(Report of Examination for Water Right Change / Superseding Water Right Certificate)

What is the Purpose of this Modification?
With much of our water already allocated in Washington State, new water rights are increasingly difficult to obtain. As a result, more and more people are choosing to make changes to existing water right certificates. Limited changes can be made to water right permits. The Washington Department of Ecology may consider changes to the following elements of an existing water right certificate or claim:
  • Place of use
  • Point of diversion or withdrawal
  • Additional point(s) of diversion or withdrawal
  • Purpose of use
Who Issues this Modification?
Department of Ecology
What Activities Require this Modification?
A change to the place of use, adding or changing a point of diversion or withdrawal, or a change to the purpose of use of an existing water right.
How Much Will this Modification Cost?
To file an application for change with the Department of Ecology, there is a minimum application fee of $50. Additional fees will be assessed at the rate of 50 cents per one hundredth cubic feet per second (cfs). For fees to change a storage water right, see Reservoir Permits. The maximum fee for changing an existing water right or water storage project is $12,500.

Individual County Water Conservancy Boards set their own fees. Information on water conservancy board fees can be found at https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Water-supply/Water-rights/Water-conservancy-boards.
Where Can I Get the Application for this Modification?
The application which is called 'Application for Change/Transfer of Water Right' is online and can be accessed at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/summarypages/ecy040197.html.
Do I Need to Include Anything with my Application?
If you have chosen to file your change application with the Department of Ecology, 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 encourages you to take part in a Pre-application Consultation before spending the money, time, and effort to complete and file your application. If we understand your water supply needs, we can offer advice 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.
  • Email the completed form to wrPreApp@ecy.wa.gov. Or, you can mail the completed form to the appropriate regional office.
  • Wait for Ecology to contact you to schedule a pre-application meeting. 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. The pre-application meeting can also be done over the phone.
Is the Decision on my Modification 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 related to a decision on your application, such as: Application requirements, fees, and information needs
  • Records of beneficial use of water
  • Tentative determinations of extent and validity
  • Water resources regulations specific to your location
  • Any issues related to same body of water
  • Alternatives
  • Anticipated processing timelines
  • Qualifications for priority processing
  • County Water Conservancy Board and 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 Ecology staff may have.

    The water allowed by the change authorization must be put to use within a timeframe specified by the development schedule on the Report of Examination, which summarizes Ecology’s findings. Once water authorized has been put to use and the project is complete, Ecology will issue a Superseding Water Right Certificate.
    How Long Will it Take to Review my Application?
    The processing time for a water right change application is difficult to predict. A significant backlog of pending water right applications and change applications exists and the average change application has been pending for more than five years. The actual time will vary according to location, complexity, the nature of the change requested, and the number of other applications competing for the same source of water.

    An application may qualify for priority processing due to public health and environmental reasons (see Chapter 173-152 WAC).

    In some situations, Ecology may choose to investigate a number of pending applications related to the same water source, as outlined in WAC 173-152-030(5). Decisions must be made based on the dates of these applications, but if your application is related to that same water source, it may be decided as part of that process. Contact your regional office to see if they are making plans to work in your area.

    Opportunities to expedite processing are available by entering into a Cost Reimbursement Agreement with Ecology. If you choose to take this route, you will hire one of Ecology’s approved contractors and be responsible for paying all costs associated with processing your application. Contact your regional office for more information on Cost Reimbursement Agreements.

    In addition, many counties in Washington have Water Conservancy Boards that can process water right change applications. For more information on which counties have boards, see Water Conservancy Boards.
    Where do I Submit my Application?
    Pre-applications:
    E-mail the completed pre-application form to wrPreApp@ecy.wa.gov or mail the completed form to the appropriate regional office.

    Applications (with $50.00 fee payable to the Department of Ecology):
      DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY
      CASHIERING SECTION
      PO BOX 47611
      OLYMPIA, WA 98504-7611


    Water right change applications may be filed with Ecology or with a County Water Conservancy Board for evaluation and processing. In both cases, Ecology makes the final decision on all change applications. (The decision is called a Report of Examination; no new permit is issued.)
    Schematic:
    View the schematic
    How Long is my Modification Valid?
    Once water authorized has been put to use and the project is complete, Ecology will issue a Superseding Water Right Certificate. Once a Superseding Certificate is issued, it will remain in good standing as long as water 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 Modification?
    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: 12
    Maximum number of days from Receipt to Complete: 282

    Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Issue a Permit Decision (Definition)
    Average number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 632
    Maximum number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 5550

    (Summary results based on 62 submittals in 2020)

    Where can I get permitting assistance?
    Subject matter expert phone: Additional information and subject matter expert phone numbers and e-mails by region are available at: https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Permits-certifications/Water-rights-permits
    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 12/16/2020
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