Water rules: MLIRD asks state to amend law

Moses Lake – If you can’t beat the law, change it.

That’s what the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District (MLIRD) is trying to do in response to a 2020 ruling by then-Grant County Supreme Court Justice David Studio that the area can no longer enforce assessments under the irrigation portion of state law because the area had no way to provide Irrigation water for anyone.

Bill Bailey, MLIRD chairman, said the district has asked local lawmakers to amend the law and bring the District Irrigation and Rehabilitation District under the authority of only the law that created it. Currently, MLIRD is subject to two separate sets of status code.

“This will take the confusion out of the assessment methodology,” Bailey said.

At the center of the dispute are two sections of state law – one governing irrigation areas, and the second, later, a law governing irrigation and rehabilitation areas.

Irrigation areas provide water to customers and in return impose a small appraisal on property owners within the area. However, irrigation and rehabilitation areas also regulate and protect an area of ​​water for recreational purposes, such as fishing and boating.

According to Bailey, a second law was passed in 1962 specifically for the Moses Lake Irrigation District to become an irrigation and rehabilitation area, something he said residents wanted at the time for better lake management.

“We are the only ones in the I and R (Irrigation and Rehabilitation) area in the state,” Bailey said. “The legislation was drawn up with Moses Lake in mind.”

Under a 1962 law, an irrigation area is allowed to become a rehabilitation area as well if it contains “the greater part of a navigable inland body of water” and has annual rights to 50,000 acres of that body of water. At the time, only the Lake Musa irrigation area fit this description.

District irrigation and rehabilitation are allowed to charge up to 25 cents per $1,000 of value on property within the area, depending on state law, while district irrigation law only states that counties may charge “reasonable” rates or tax — or both — on Land owners to help pay for water distribution.

While the District Irrigation and Rehabilitation Department of the Act grants them all irrigation district powers, Estudillo found that MLIRD did not provide any legal justification for the portion of the taxes over 25 cents, ruling that MLIRD had no authority to enforce district irrigation as part of the law.

“We actually don’t save water, which is what all the other irrigation systems do,” Bailey said.

While MLIRD is in talks with the city of Lake Moses to use the portion of the 50,000 acres of lake water in which it holds rights to provide water for the city’s proposed irrigation system for lawns and gardens, Bailey also said that MLIRD is seeking to change the existing law so that the entirety of the area’s functions are governed by the 1962 law, as opposed to All of the laws of irrigation.

“The irrigation and rehabilitation district is a different entity from the irrigation district,” Bailey said.

Bailey did not provide any details about the specific changes MLIRD is seeking. However, Representative Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said the legislation is unlikely to pass this year because lawmakers have a lot to do during this year’s very short session.

“A group of us are talking about it, but the suggestion came really late, at the beginning of the session,” Dent said. “It should be by late November, early December.”

Dent said he was able to review a draft amendment to the law, but lawmakers likely won’t have time to get to it at this hearing.

“We’ve been in the water this year,” Dent said.

MLIRD did not impose a 25-cent tax in 2021 or in 2022, and Bailey said the district has enough reserves to pay its bills.

“We’ve spoken with all of our representatives on multiple occasions, and are awaiting a final change to the proposal,” Bailey said. “I hope it will be done this year.”

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