- Water Resources
2016 – Present
Grant County, WA
Benjamin Lee, PE, CWRE
Eric Weber, LHg, CWRE
Kaila Anderson, PE
Katherine Ryf, CWRE
Benchmark Farms – New Agricultural Water Right
Benchmark Farms is an agricultural producer farming several thousand acres of both dry and irrigated land in Grant County, WA. While dry land farming can be viable, the introduction of irrigation water to dry land can multiply a producer’s output. The Farm Producer saw an opportunity to bring new water to its High Hill farm and enlisted Landau Associates to complete the technical and administrative requirements to make the project successful.
It is rare for Washington’s Department of Ecology (Ecology) to issue new water rights, as a vast majority of the state’s water resources have already been allocated. Ecology will only issue a new, unmitigated water right if there is unallocated water available at the location of the proposed use and if the new use does not impair existing rights.
Landau assisted Benchmark Farms with a new water right application that was ultimately approved without a mitigation requirement. Details of the project included:
- 1,600 acres of ground irrigated under a new permit from the Department of Ecology
- Economic benefits associated with increased agricultural yield and farm development
- Multiple stakeholders including the Department of Ecology, Bureau of Reclamation, Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District, and City of Soap Lake
According to Ecology staff, the Benchmark Farms water right is probably the largest new irrigation water right issued in over 20 years!
Water in the vicinity of the Columbia Basin Project area is typically considered over-allocated. Consequently, new state water right permits are generally not issued by Ecology. Complex geology and overlapping regulatory jurisdictions were other potential roadblocks.
Landau used our knowledge of the Columbia Basin Project, the local geology, and the Washington water code to demonstrate water availability and public interest benefit. We recognized that groundwater flooding occurred in the area from leakage from the massive Bureau of Reclamation Columbia Basin Project. Groundwater flooding was controlled by a series of large, shallow groundwater pumping stations – called the Soap Lake Protective Works (SLPW) – operated in partnership by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Quincy-Columba Basin Irrigation District. The water pumped from the SLPW (8,000 gpm annual average) is wasted into the irrigation canal system. This pumped water represented a potential new source and was a foundation for demonstrating water availability. Understanding the multi-jurisdictional nature of water regulation in the area, Landau was proactive about communication with multiple regulatory agencies and the client. Finally, it was important to have a strong technical foundation for the project to demonstrate that water could be used without impairing other beneficial water use interests.
The project was conceived in 2016 during a visit to the High Hill with Benchmark Farms personnel. Four years later in 2020, Benchmark Farms was irrigating the first five center pivots out of a single supply well that made 3,500 gpm.
Along the way, Benchmark Farms applied for a preliminary permit from the Department of Ecology to drill a 550 ft test well and conduct a long-term pumping test. The test confirmed an extremely productive aquifer.
There are now three production wells that will serve full build-out of the system by 2024.
The permit requires implementation of a long-term monitoring plan. Landau assists Benchmark Farms in monitoring water levels in multiple wells. We also include data from 31 wells monitored by the irrigation district. Landau submits annual reports to all agency stakeholders to confirm water availability and lack of impairment.