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Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Water bank sticker shock: $51,140 for an acre-foot of water?

According to documents posted last week on Kittitas County's website, the county agrees to pay remarkably high prices for deposits in the county's water bank. These agreements will be the subject of a public hearing on May 29.

The agreements, with three different sources of water rights, are signed by BOCC Chair Paul Jewell. The amounts of water, pricing information, and links to the documents are shown in the table below. All links can also be found at the county's Community Development Services webpage.

Assignor acre-feet total price $/acre-ft
Mitch and Julie Williams dba Aqua Mitigation LLC 67.203  $1,440,000.00  $21,427.61
Barton and Sheila Clennon 14.490  $200,000.00  $13,802.62
Mitch and Julie Williams dba Aqua Mitigation LLC 14.375  $735,000.00  $51,130.43
Thomas and Kathleen Roth 9.482  $122,000.00  $12,866.48
Totals and average $/ac-ft 105.55  $2,497,000.00  $23,657.03

Prices per acre-foot vary from $12,866.48 (The Roth Water Trust) to $51,130.43 (Mitch and Julie Williams, Aqua Mitigation LLC) -- a four-fold range. The average price offered to Aqua Mitigation LLC is $26,660 per acre-foot, twice the price offered to the other two parties. The average price for all the water is over $23,000.

How much is water worth, anyway?  Below is recent offer to buy water rights, from an April 2014 issue of the Yakima Herald.
The offer is to pay $1,750 per acre-foot, with the understanding that the water rights would leave -- not just Kittitas County -- but the entire Yakima River Basin. The stakes are very high in the arena of water rights.

It might seem odd that the county should move to socialize access to water, but there may be some reasonable arguments for it. Stabilizing access to water at as low a price as possible is one of them. These agreements do almost the exact opposite: they essentially codify an absurdly high price for water. Among other things, this constitutes a serious threat to agriculture in Kittitas County.

Just as bad, the current water bank process bypasses the normal bid system that the county is required to use to protect taxpayers from sweetheart deals between politicians and supporters. Like Walmart, as a volume buyer the county should be driving a much harder bargain.

On the other hand, I own a water right that I would jump at the chance to sell for $51,000, or even considerably less. I am sure that I am not alone.

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