Water Right, New

What is the purpose of this permit?
A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated beneficial use. Beneficial use involves using a reasonable quantity of water for non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few.
Who issues this permit?
Department of Ecology
What activities require this permit?
State law requires a water right permit before using any surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, or springs) for beneficial use as stated above. This applies to beneficial use that started after the state water code was enacted in 1917. State law also requires a water right permit before withdrawing groundwater for beneficial use. This applies to beneficial use that started in 1945 when the state groundwater code was enacted - unless the use is specifically exempt from state permitting requirements. Exemptions include:
  • Stock watering.
  • Single or group domestic purposes using less than 5,000 gallons per day.
  • Industrial purposes using less than 5,000 gallons per day.
  • Watering a lawn or non-commercial garden that is not larger than one-half acre.
While "exempt" groundwater uses are excused from needing a state permit, they are considered a water right and are subject to all other provisions of the water code.
How much will this permit cost?
There is a minimum $50 application fee. Any additional fees will depend on the amount of water you are proposing to use and will need to be paid upfront to consider your application complete. The fee to appropriate new water is $1 per one-hundredth cubic foot per second (cfs). The fee for new water-storage projects is $2 per acre-foot of storage. The maximum application fee to appropriate or store water is $25,000. Fees are non-refundable, so do not send additional fees until you are notified of the amount. Ecology will bill you any additional amount owed. Once billed, you will have 60 days to pay, or we will reject your application.

Before you spend money and effort to prepare a water right application, we strongly encourage you to engage in a pre-application consultation with our staff. We want to understand your water supply needs and give you our perspective on risks, opportunities, and alternatives. Pre-application is not required but highly recommended.

If you choose a pre-application consultation meeting, we can learn more about your proposed project and inform you of issues related to the decision on your application, such as:
  • Water availability.
  • The status of pending applications.
  • Anticipated processing timelines.
  • Application requirements, fees, and information needs.
  • Water resource regulations specific to your location.
  • Alternatives.
  • Qualifications for priority processing.
  • Cost reimbursement options.
  • Ecology contacts.
  • Download and complete the Pre-Application Consultation Form. Do your best to complete all sections of the form and we will discuss any incomplete sections at the meeting.
  • E-mail the completed Water Right Pre-Application Consultation Form to the appropriate regional office address on the form. If you cannot e-mail the completed form, please mail it to the appropriate regional office. Wait for Ecology to contact you. Our goal is to contact you within 5 business days to confirm receipt of your pre-application request. We will schedule a meeting or phone call to discuss your water supply needs.

You can invite any professional staff (e.g., engineers, hydrogeologists, or attorneys) to answer technical questions Ecology staff may have.
Where can I get the application for this permit?
The application is called 'Application for a Water Right' is online and can be accessed at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/summarypages/ecy040114.html.
Do I need to include anything with my application?
The application form may specify reports, maps, and other information you should submit with your application.
Is the decision on my permit dependent on anything besides the information in my application?
When making the decision on your permit, Ecology will consider the applicable laws and rules, the contents of your application, and the background environmental conditions.
How long will it take to review my application?
The time it takes Ecology to review your application will depend on:
  • Water location
  • Water availability
  • Project complexity
  • Other applications competing for the same source of water.
A significant backlog of pending water right applications exist in many watersheds. However, opportunities to expedite processing are available via the cost reimbursement process. In addition, an application may qualify for priority processing due to public health or environmental reasons (See WAC 173-152).
Where do I submit my application?
See the pre-application consultation process instructions above. If you skip the pre-application process, mail the Application for a Water Right with a $50.00 check to: Department of Ecology Cashiering Section Po Box 47611 Olympia, WA 98504-7611 Applications (with $50.00 fee): DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY CASHIERING SECTION PO BOX 47611 OLYMPIA, WA 98504-7611
View the schematic
How long is my permit valid?
A water right permit must be used within the timeframe specified by the permit's development schedule. Once the water has been put to beneficial use, the state may issue a Certificate of Water Right. A Water Right Certificate is a property right and will remain in good standing as long as use continues. A water right may lapse if there is a prolonged period of nonuse, (generally five years) unless you qualify for an exception as provided in RCW 90.14.140.
What is the appeal process for the permit?
An order, permit, license, or decision can be appealed within 30 days from the “date of receipt” of the decision. The appeal process is governed by RCW 43.21B and WAC 371-08. “Date of receipt” is defined in RCW 43.21B.001(2). Get more information on the Pollution Control Board’s Appeal Process web page.
Related Entries:
Legal Authority:
Permit Timeliness Results

Permit Timeliness data collection is in response to a State Auditor’s Performance Audit and RCW 43.42A. Each regulatory agency developed a plan to improve permit clarity, predictability, and timeliness. Each agency considers the customers experience to ensure permit assistance is simple to use, easy to access, and designed in a customer-friendly manner. Agencies report progress to the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA). ORIA prepares and distributes reports, with participation from the State Auditor’s Office and Results Washington. See latest report here: https://www.oria.wa.gov/ORIA-2020-PermitTimelinessProgressReport.pdf.

All permits submitted for reporting were entered into this Regulatory Handbook. Here are the results of the performance data:

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Process a Permit Application (Definition)
Average number of days from Receipt to Complete: 255
Maximum number of days from Receipt to Complete: 4322

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Issue a Permit Decision (Definition)
Average number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 6786
Maximum number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 15690

(Summary results based on 229 submittals in 2023)

Where can I get permitting assistance?
Web page URL: https://ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits/Permits-certifications/Water-rights-permits
Department of Ecology
Water Resources Program
300 Desmond Drive
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
Fax: (360) 407-7162
Telephone: (360) 407-6872
Website: https://ecology.wa.gov/About-us/Get-to-know-us/Our-Programs/Water-Resources
Triggering Questions:
  • Will your project use groundwater or surface water?
  • Will your project use ground water or surface water?
* Permit information last updated 8/21/2023