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Water for Golf Course Trumps Disappearing Aquifer

Golf Course
Palouse Ridge:

Washington State University has been declared the victor in a long-running fight over using - or conserving - water in a rapidly shrinking aquifer underneath Pullman and Moscow. Six justices of the Washington State Supreme Court held that WSU is legally pumping millions of gallons of water from the Grand Ronde aquifer, with some of the water going to keep the university's new golf course green.

Three justices dissented, however, arguing that WSU relinquished some of its water rights several years ago, and that the old principle of "use it or lose it" must apply in the case.

The ruling ends a long-running battle between a Palouse farmer, Scott Cornelius, who was joined by by two conservation groups, and the university which needed more water for its campus golf course.

Cornelius argued that increased pumping from the ancient aquifer is not sustainable because the water level is dropping drastically, threatening all users in the basin, including the cities of Pullman and Moscow. Water levels have fallen more than a hundred feet since the 1930s.

But the ruling turned on questions of law, not on threats to a sole source aquifer and to the cities and farmers who depend on it.

The six justices who ruled for WSU acknowledged that the state's water law can lead to unpleasant outcomes. But, they said, it is the legislature's prerogative to categorize water uses.

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