Washington court: Fish and Wildlife can regulate land to protect fish – Capital Press

An extremely important ruling has come down at the Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday. The  unanimous ruling affirmed the right of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to regulate construction on dry land above the normal tide lines in order to protect fish. This enormously expands the scope of the Hydraulic Permit Code and will likely have great consequences for Governor Inslee’s hand in making policy decisions for protecting additional salmon habitat for Orca recovery. I’m sure that the plaintiffs might wish they had never brought this before the Supreme Court. But there’s also caution for environmental organizations that may celebrate the ruling.

From the case itself. It offers a good basic understanding of what these Hydraulic Permit Applications are and when they are required.

This case asks us to determine the geographic scope of permitting authority delegated to the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife  (Department) over hydraulic projects. A “hydraulic project” is defined as “the  construction or performance of work that will use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of any of the salt or fresh waters of the state.” RC_W 77.55.011(11).
Entities seeking to undertake hydraulic projects must apply for and obtain permits from the  Department before commencing work. RCW 77.55.021. In this case, a coalition of  Washington State counties (Counties) challenge the Department’s statutory authority to regulate the construction or performance of work that will occur exclusively above the ordinary high-water line.
The Hydraulic Code requires anyone planning to undertake a hydraulic project to obtain a preconstruction approval permit from the Department to ensure “the adequacy of the means proposed for the protection of fish life.” RCW 77.55.021(1).
The Department can deny or condition a permit only for the purpose of protecting fish life. RCW 77.55.021(7)(a). The Department’s regulatory authority encompasses hydraulic projects, which are defined based on their effects on waters of the state rather than their location relative to those waters. See RCW 77.55.011(11).
An HPA [hydraulic project approval] is required for all construction or repair/replacement of any structure that crosses a stream, river, or other water body regardless of the location of the proposed work relative to the [ ordinary high-water level] of state waters.
An HPA is also required for bridge painting and other maintenance where there is potential for paint, sandblasting material, sediments, or bridge parts to fall into the water.
ISSUE
Did the legislature intend to limit the Department’s permitting and regulatory authority to cover only projects that take place at least partially at or below the ordinary high-water line?
CONCLUSION
We hold that under the plain language of RCW 77.55.021, the Department’s jurisdictional grant of permitting authority includes upland projects that meet the effects test set forth in RCW 77.55.011(11). We further hold that the effects test requires reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty. Finally, we defer to the expertise of the Department to determine which upland activities meet the effects test. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s order.
The findings are that WDFW has authority to require HPAs for upland projects that fit the scope of the legal codes. That the requirements can be done by reasonable certainty and not a strict legal finding of certainty,  which gives much greater leeway for WDFW to issue requirements for an HPA. Lastly, the Supreme Court defers to the expertise of the Department  to determine which activities meet the requirements.
This last finding may be a double edge sword. What if the Department is wrong in a finding, siding with a developer who has huge resources and proposes enormous or highly unusual trade offs for the idea of “no net loss”?  What if they don’t decide to force an HPA (or agree with a developer intent on massive environmental change) and an environmental organization challenges that? The ruling here seems to give much greater leeway to excesses of the Department in both directions. That may not be as positive a win for environmental organizations as it appears. It requires close oversight to make sure that the law is narrowly applied to appropriate projects, while also ensuring that bureaucrats are not simply rubber stamping inappropriate and possibly habitat destructive projects.
Here’s a link to the ruling:

Read the Capital Press story here:

https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/water/washington-court-fish-and-wildlife-can-regulate-land-to-protect/article_ea1e014c-f97a-11e8-859d-7f550b7b3843.html

 

 

 

Washington Supreme Court Rules For Tribe In Skagit Case – Earthfix

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.

http://earthfix.opb.org/water/article/court-rules-in-favor-of-keeping-water-in-skagit-ri/

 

And this:

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

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