Volunteers interested in helping their community with the complicated process of applying for changes to their water rights have the opportunity to do so in Lewis County, home to the only Water Conservancy Board in Western Washington.
The Lewis County Water Conservancy Board is seeking volunteers to fill three vacancies, one of which requires certificated water right ownership within the county. Other volunteers are permitted to reside in adjoining counties, as board member Jill Van Hulle does.
Van Hulle, who works for Aspect Consulting and specializes in water rights, said the board offers three major values to water rights holders who, in Lewis County and most of Eastern Washington, are usually farmers.
“The boards are friendlier, cheaper and quicker,” than the state Department of Ecology, she said.
The volunteer commissioners serve as a middleman between rights holders and Ecology, walking them through the process of changing their water rights in about four to six months. Those who go straight to Ecology for the process, as residents of all other Western Washington counties must do, will almost certainly have to pay the department in order to have the process completed. Even then, Van Hulle said, it takes about one year.
As a regulatory agency, Ecology also often intimidates water rights holders, Van Hulle said. If a farmer were using a water right from the 1970s, for example, it’s almost certain that now they would be using it in some way that was different from the original terms. This means going to Ecology for a change application could possibly end in being fined. With the conservancy board, the farmer could avoid such a fine. Plus, they would be able to visit a local venue to go through the process, making something complicated more accessible.
“I need a better hobby, don’t I?” Van Hulle said with a chuckle. “I am a big fan of the conservancy board. In general, the folks that are on the Lewis board, they want to help. They want to be involved. They’re farmers, business people, they’re people who have an interest in the community.”
Plus, new members have the opportunity to learn more about water rights.
Each new board member attends a 32-hour Ecology training event in the fall and then receives eight hours of continuing education annually to continue to meet state standards, paid for by the Water Conservancy Board. Continued education in this case can include at-home learning or water law conferences.
Provided there is business to take care of, the board meets at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month in the basement of the Lewis County Courthouse. Meetings are open to the public.
The board has three vacancies to fill: one is for a regular position by a water right holder who diverts or withdraws water for use within Lewis County, and the two others are for alternate positions (the alternates do not have to hold water rights).
Application packets are available by visiting the “BOCC News” section at the bottom of the Board of County Commissioners’ webpage at https://lewiscountywa.gov/offices/commissioners/.
Residents interested in serving on the board are asked to submit an application, a letter of interest and a brief resume by mail to the following: Lewis County Water Conservancy Board, Attn. New Board Member, P.O. Box 1345, Chehalis, WA 98532.
Applications must be received by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17 to be considered. Water Conservancy Board members cannot be affiliated with any municipal organizations.
For general information about the board, visit the Department of Ecology’s website at https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Water-supply/Water-rights/Water-conservancy-boards.
For questions about the vacant positions, contact board board member Leland Rakoz via email at email@example.com.