A LETTER FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Hello! As summer fades into fall we are (finally!)…
Crown Columbia Water Resources, LLC (Crown Columbia) is a so-called “water banking operation” that holds a portfolio of water rights to use for mitigation for future uses. Crown Columbia is affiliated with a larger corporation called Petrus Partners Ltd., based in New York City, which invests in real estate and farmland. Through its affiliate, Crown West Farm Group, Petrus owns 8,000 acres of farmland. In 2015 Petrus formed Crown Columbia Water Resources LLC, a water banking company with an address in Spokane. Crown Columbia controls 50,000 acre-feet of water in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. About half of Petrus’ investment capital has come from retired partners of Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Crown Columbia’s most recent application for an “area-wide water permit,” is unprecedented. It proposes instituting a novel concept which would create a new water bank that would allow the company to acquire water rights anywhere within the vast Columbia River basin. It would then “make water available for long-term loans and leases”.
The application is currently under review by the Department of Ecology, which recently sent a letter requesting input on the proposal to hundreds of local, state and federal officials, tribal leaders and other stakeholders in the Columbia River basin in Washington.
CELP's Position and Argument
The Center for Environmental Law & Policy has serious concerns regarding Crown Columbia’s application. An area-wide permit of this type has, to CELP’s knowledge, never been approved or implemented in Washington. It would be an entirely new type of water appropriation program and raises serious legal and policy questions. We believe that approving such a permit would be unlawful, and have grave concerns about the process that is being followed.
There is no basis in the Water Code for even processing an application for a water right whose quantity and rate of withdrawal, place of withdrawal, and place of use are all unspecified, let alone granting such a right. As a threshold matter, Crown’s application cannot possibly “comply with the provisions of this chapter,” for the reasons given above. Ecology has no legal authority to even examine such an application, let alone issue the permit. CELP believes that issuing an ROE based on this application would be an ultra vires action by Ecology. CELP urges Ecology to cease consideration of any such area-wide water permit. If such a sweeping change in water management is to be made, that is the province of the Legislature. Ecology has no authority to overturn our state’s water management framework in this manner.
Shortly after the public comment period ended Ecology suspended the application process, setting yet another important precedent to curb water speculation in Washington state.
3. Comment: Crown Columbia Water Resources