This decision has huge ramifications. The Tribes have always said that they have the right to go after upstream water regulations within the watersheds if the State didn’t appropriately protect the salmon stream flows, and now the Supreme Court has agreed with them.
A Western Washington tribe Thursday won a legal victory that will ensure more water stays in the Skagit River to help salmon and steelhead. The decision could affect 6,000 landowners who were allocated water under rules that have now been struck down. That figure includes more than 600 residents with homes that have already been built. The Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Ecology overstepped its authority in allocating water from the Skagit River for new development.
This has to do with the Washington Instream Rule and whether the State has been doing the correct job in balancing water use for development and water use for fish. The virtually unregulated use of water for any and all comers is a throwback to the 1800s, and it is widely understood now that rivers can have too much water taken out of them, and the local aquifers which often recharge them.
This will be coming to a county near you here on the Peninsula soon, due to this decision. The good news is that the counties here and the Tribes have been working very cooperatively to work this out. There are still some locations to be worked out, but this should help clarify those discussions.
Ecology director committed to finding water supply solutions in the Skagit Basin after state Supreme Court ruling
OLYMPIA – Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon today renewed her commitment to ensuring adequate water supplies for home owners and stream flows in the Skagit Basin after Ecology’s 2006 water management rule for the Skagit Basin was invalidated.
The Washington state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today that Ecology in 2006 exceeded its authority in setting aside water reservations for new uses in the Skagit. The 2006 rule amended a 2001 water management rule that protected stream flows basin-wide.
A reservation is a specific amount of water set aside for specific uses in watersheds closed to new groundwater wells. In the case of the Skagit, these reservations have provided a source of water for homes, agriculture, livestock and businesses since 2001. The court today ruled in Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Department of Ecology that Ecology cannot set aside reservations of water through adoption of water management rules where water was previously set aside to support stream flows for fish. Without water reservations, later water uses can be interrupted when dry spells impact the protected stream flows. Ecology found in 2006 that limited reservations would not substantially harm fish populations. The Swinomish Tribe challenged the establishment of the reservations in 2008 and appealed a Thurston County Superior Court finding in Ecology’s favor in 2010.
“I am disappointed in today’s ruling but no less committed to finding water supply solutions for homes and businesses,” Bellon said. “We will be working with local partners to manage the water supply in the Skagit Basin to ensure stream flows are protected and the needs of existing and future water users are met.”
A total of 475 homes and 8 businesses have relied on Skagit reservations for their water supplies since 2001. Ecology will be looking for water supply solutions for those homes and businesses who are affected by today’s ruling.
Ecology is assessing today’s decision and how it may affect water management in other areas of the state.
For today’s court decision, go to: www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/876720.pdf
Filed under: Puget Sound | Tagged: department of ecology, Maia Bellon, tribal water rights, tribes, Washington Supreme Court, water rights, water use, WIRA | 1 Comment »