Matt McMurrer
December 5, 2001
Environmental Studies 120

Community Water Use Mapping
Final Internship Report

The purpose of my internship was to help Kevin Scribner, of Kooskooskie Commons, map the water use from the Walla Walla Watershed within Washington State. This map would help Kevin understand how water ties different groups in the Basin together and, in turn, help define community responsibilities for water use reform. The map we sought to create was not a map in the geographic sense, but rather a hierarchical listing of associations and organizations that use water within the Basin. My specific role as an intern is to do research the basic information to develop such a list as Kevin does not have the time to do so himself.

I got off to a rather late start. I put off contacting Kevin and Judy until after the weekend (9/8-9) so as to be able to call them at work. I promptly forgot that weekend and found myself rather swept up in the events of 9/11. I first contacted Kevin and Judy the following Monday via email. We decided to meet that Wednesday in the SUB. They were, thankfully, not upset at my major misstep with regards to first contact. We talked in very general terms about what I would be doing and our own personal take on water politics in the Northwest. They are associated with the Kooskooskie Commons and are particularly interested in how communities self-organize and interact. Kevin sent me home with a copy of a book chapter on capturing the power of associations and organizations. This struck me as being very cogent to a discussion of water usage, but I was not sure as to what my role was. They assured me that we would address my specific role at our next meeting

When we met next, Kevin and I nailed down, or so we thought, that, while I was “his” intern, we would be collaborating on this effort to map out the water use of the entire Walla Walla watershed. He then put me in touch with Bill Neve of the Washington Department of Ecology. Bill alerted us to the fact that our goal might be a little too broad. There are 1750 separate individual water rights to the surface water of the Washington side of the Walla Walla Basin. Possibly nearing 2000 with modifications over generations. Also, that number represents neither actual ownership of the land nor actual use of the water. Determining what water is actually being used by whom will require checking the location of each individual property right with the land ownership records in the assessors office, which Bill refers to as a “daunting task.” Upon further questioning via email, Bill revealed that the municipal water of Walla Walla comes not just from Mill Creek, but also from seven different wells tapping into the deep basalt aquifer. Adding groundwater use to the equation complicates the original goal because while the community of Walla Walla is using such water, this water is not considered to be a part of the watershed. Groundwater accumulates in aquifers over many thousands of years, and is not renewable in the timeframe of a human life. So, how to compare use of surface water, which will come in varying quantities every year, to the overdraft of a finite resource that is the groundwater aquifer? The solution Kevin and I decided upon was only to discuss the groundwater used in the Aquifer Storage and Recharge program (ASR). Further, we decided that attempting to map out the use of the entire Walla Walla Basin was rather unrealistic. Beyond the sheer number of water rights there is the complication of a lack of water meters. The majority of water users on the Walla Walla and Mill Creek appear to be farmers irrigating fields. There is no government instituted water use metering on irrigation pumps, only on private home users within the Walla Walla city limits. Therefore, knowing how much each individual water right owner was entitled to would not necessarily have anything to do with the actual amount of water used. For these reasons, Kevin and I decided to focus on the City of Walla Walla, where records of water use were kept, and a diversity of water users existed. It was here that I began to encounter serious problems.

I tried to obtain specific information about water use by users other than private home users in the city, but was only able to obtain a breakdown of municipal water use by customer class and rather basic information on the Aquiver Storage and Recharge (ASR) program. I was also able to have access to a complete listing of water rights on Mill Creek, and broke them down in to groups by volume of the claim. I was very interested to see that with the exception of the Walla Walla municipal right, and two others, every right was for irrigation or other farming uses.

Though the Walla Walla Water Division’s denial of specific information concerning water consumption has prevented me from completing my surface goal. The deeper goal of my project, though, was to aid Kevin in his goal of gaining a deeper understanding of water use in the Walla Walla Basin and any associations that might result. The wall I ran into at the Water Division is an indicator one of those associations, the association between the Water Division and its larger volume clients. Untangling this association, redirecting the self-interest of these players to match the public interest in conserving the scarce water of Eastern Washington.

Aquifer Storage and Recharge:

The ASR program is a project in its infancy designed to reduce Walla Walla’s dependence on ground water. Water demand fluctuates greatly from season to season, summer being the greatest. During the dry summer months, Walla Walla is unable to meet demand with its 28 ft3/second water right on Mill Creek and is forced to draw water from 7 basalt aquifer wells. During the winter, however, not all of the 28 ft3/second is used. This water that not used by immediate consumption but that the city is still entitled to and pours it down one of the 7 wells. During the year 2000, 220.36 million gallons were recharged, while 276.24 million gallons were pumped out. Though not yet a completely compensatory measure, a net take of fifty million gallons is a start. The City has put ASR efforts temporarily on hold while a proposal for an additional winter water right of 20 ft3/second is refined. The added capacity could possibly allow for storage in all of the city’s wells and possibly result in a zero net pumpage of groundwater for municipal use. It would also allow for greater leeway as to when recharge could take place. There are times when turbidity, murkiness, due mainly to soil erosion, makes recharge impossible. Polluting the well with recharge water would have a lasting adverse effect on the well. Given the geologic time frame on which an aquifer would heal, caution is greatly needed. At the ASR site, there is not a full water purification plant, only ozone to counter chemical impurities and chlorine to sterilize the water. The expanded water right will permit the wells to be protected will encouraging maximum recharge.


Walla Walla Water Use by category

City of Walla Walla                            28 ft3/second

          For Year 200

          %Private               43.08*

          %Commercial        23.86*

          %Industrial            14.33*

          %Public                          18.73*