Water rights hard to secure
Andy den Hoed
Andy den Hoed, a grape grower who transferred water from an orchard in the northern part of Washington State to his vineyard in the south, says he doesn't expect to see a large number of similar transfers.
Transferring water rights from one piece of property to another is difficult and time consuming, he says, even though many people are trying to sell their water rights.
"If you need water, you'd better plan ahead three to four years in advance, because it takes a long time," he warned.
Den Hoed, a partner at Wallula Vineyards at Grandview, Washington, said he had been working with a realtor to find more water rights when an 80-acre parcel with water rights in Tonasket came on the market two years ago. This was a rare instance where the property came with full water rights.
"You have to do a lot of research on it before you buy it, because very seldom is there one that will work," he said. "I bet you one percent of the people that come my way can actually be a candidate."
Often, prospective buyers don't have records, and if they can't prove they actually pumped water onto the property, they can't transfer the rights.
Water rights can be lost if a property is not watered for a five-year period. The owners can water the property themselves, but can't transfer the rights.
Another example of lost rights would be a 100-acre piece of property where only 20 acres have been watered. If the water rights were sold, only the rights for the 20 acres could be transferred and the rights for the other 80 acres would be lost, leaving those 80 acres without water.
This summer, den Hoed went to look at a piece of property that had 1960 water rights. When he checked the records, he found that the property had been in the federal Conservation Reserve Program for ten years during the 1990s, and when it came out of the CRP in 2000, the owner didn't irrigate it for six years, so the water rights were lost. Even if part of the property had been irrigated, most of the rights would have been lost because the owner believed that it was sufficient to irrigate just a five-acre piece of the 160 acres and not move the irrigation lines, he said.
Den Hoed said he has spent a lot of time looking for water rights and doubts that water is going to be transferred on a scale that would seriously impact the northern counties. "I've tried large farms, I've tried small farms, and it's very, very difficult, and it's not going to empty them out."
Den Hoed and his brother Bill have 1,500 acres of vineyard and enough water for the time being. But, eventually, he'll need to start looking again, he said.