State water district law needs to be updated to fairly represent voters

By PAM LEWISON  | 
POLICY NOTES
|
Mar 31, 2020

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Key Findings

  1. The convoluted nature of water laws and rules throughout our state means that any proposed legislation to improve how this vital resource is governed must be carefully outlined.
  2. People paying assessments to an irrigation district or owning land included to receive water should be the only individuals eligible to run for board positions or vote in an irrigation district election.
  3. State law should be amended to ensure irrigation district elections reflect the will of those who will be most affected by the board of directors.

Introduction

Irrigation districts in Washington state provide water to customers throughout the state. In some cases, however, they also provide drinking water and electrical services in various communities where urbanization came well after the development of the water delivery infrastructure. In still other areas, the creation of the local irrigation district was refined over the years as irrigation projects expanded and became more specific with ever-more detailed requirements directing where irrigation water could be distributed.


There are 101 irrigation districts in Washington, with 37 of them belonging to the Washington State Water Resources Association.1 Only 28 of those 37 irrigation districts report collecting more than $1 million in revenue, but all the irrigation districts combined collected $202.7 million in fees in 2018.


The largest 17 districts in the state are located in Eastern Washington and serve a total of nearly one million acres of irrigated land. Irrigation districts certainly serve farmers and ranchers, but they are equally responsible for helping to maintain healthy public spaces, park landscapes, and backyard gardens for a wide range of our state’s residents.


Irrigation districts are funded almost entirely by the fees paid by their water-users and, as such, they are governed by elected boards of directors, much like towns and cities throughout the state. The governance of irrigation districts is determined largely by their size. The number of acres within their potential boundary determining the rules of their election system and the composition of their boards of directors.

 

Download file Read the FULL Policy Note here