Water Right Adjudication Coming to a Conclusion in the Yakima Basin
Final Decree entered in Washington’s longest-running general stream adjudication
May 9, 2019 marked a watershed moment for Washington’s Yakima River Basin. After forty-two years of court proceedings, involving over 25,000 filings and hundreds of hearings, Judge F. James Gavin, of Yakima County Superior Court, entered the Final Decree in the Ecology v. James Acquavella case. The Final Decree confirms all surface water rights in the Yakima River Basin. Nearly 2,300 individual properties and 27 major claimants have been involved in the case, with claimants ranging from major irrigation districts and cities, to the Yakama Indian Nation and the United States. The scope of the adjudication is enormous, covering a drainage area of approximately 6,150 square miles, or nearly 10% of the State. The adjudication proceedings have established important precedent, forged trust among the participants, and will provide a blueprint for the approach to water management in the future, including implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. All parties who spoke at the signing ceremony applauded Judge Gavin, whom Ecology Director Maia Bellon named a “water rights champion,” and all of the Court and Ecology staff that have shepherded this case along since its inception in 1977. As Director Bellon stated, this is truly an auspicious day for Washington.
Matt Wells served as counsel to the City of Yakima in Acquavella.