WSU Golf Course Topic of Legal Challenge

By Steve Jackson

A challenge to water rights held by Washington State University will be heard before the Washington State Supreme court next week.

The issue centers over water rights granted to WSU in 2008. At that time a new state law essentially voided what had been long been known as the “Use it or Lose It” rule in the west. That is, unused water rights could not be held by an entity forever.
 
Now a Pullman property owner says the University’s claim to far more groundwater than it has ever used means the Palouse region will eventually face a water shortage.
 
The Grande Rhonde aquifer, that provides drinking water to Pullman, and nearby Moscow, is declining at about a foot and half a year.
The University has water rights for 5300 acre feet per year, but is currently using less than half of that.

Adding to the controversy is the fact WSU’s golf course, which went on line in 2008, uses a great deal of that water, an average of 40 million gallons per year. WSU officials defend the need for such future water rights.

Steve Potratz ,the plant engineering supervisor for WSU, says since the university is considered to be a municipality, it needs future water rights for anticipated expansion of it’s population. And he adds they have been working on conserving water in recent years.

The university itself has decreased its water use in the last 15 to the point where we are using 45 percent less water than in the early 90’s.

Rachael Pascal Osborne is an attorney representing a private well owner in the case.

“We don’t disagree that wsu has done a good job of conserving over campus, but if your break down the usage you’ll find they have conserved in the administration building and places off campus, but their water use on the golf course has tripled, with the new course”
 
Rob Corcoran, the executive director of facilities operations, at WSU, feels the Golf Course water use has been unfairly targeted. He compares the water use there to how much water is being used by the towns of Moscow, Pullman, and the WSU campus.

Corcoran: "If you look at the overall usage between the four pumpers, its up to 2 billion gallons a year, and the golf course is 44 million, the previous golf course was 30 million, so actually the increase is 10 to 20 million gallons compared to 2 billion, it’s a very small amount."

The State Supreme court will hear the case, beginning on May 21st.
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