New law improves capabilities for drought response and preparedness – Dept of Ecology

Some good news during this bad year.

A bill initiated by the state Department of Ecology to deal with drought, ESB 1622, passed the state legislature in March and was signed by Gov. Inslee on March 27. The new law streamlines the state’s response to drought emergencies. It facilitates interagency cooperation, eases the flow of money from the legislature to the Department of Ecology so it can help alleviate drought-related hardships, and expands the types of projects funded during a drought emergency. The new law also authorizes issuing a “drought advisory warning” ahead of an emergency.

Before this new law, state agencies could help support water users during drought emergencies, but had little authority to provide support before one was declared. Now, when DOE have funds available, they can help water users invest in projects that will build their resiliency to drought conditions and water shortages before the emergency occurs. These projects might include constructing a back-up well for a small community, helping a farmer invest in water conservation measures, or constructing emergency water intakes for fish hatcheries and rescuing stranded fish.

Under authority provided by the new law, DOE also will explore a creative way to lease water rights during times of drought. In past drought years, DOE would lease water rights from water users who could forgo using their water to keep it instream for fish. The challenge, however, was finding water rights to lease during a drought. The few rights that were available were expensive.

DOE will launch a pilot program to explore entering into long-term water right leases. These leases will be negotiated ahead of time and could last for up to four years. If a drought were declared during that period, DOE could “activate” the agreement and lease the water for a pre-determined price. These long-term leases will act almost as insurance, providing certainty to both water users and the state. This is a tool that’s been lauded by experts, but only tried in a few places. DOE is excited to lead the country in exploring this innovative tool.

(Dept of Ecology)

A state drought law is passed

State Supreme Court: Whatcom must restrict rural wells to protect water supply – Bellingham Herald

The State Supreme Court has ruled that the cumulative effects of granting blanket water rights without taking into consideration their impact on water is illegal. The County Realtors fought this. They are affected by this because of it’s possible impact on sales (they weren’t concerned about whether the properties they sold had water, nor if the river could support salmon, apparently). This has impact here because both our county and Clallam, especially Clallam with the Dungeness River restoration, are affected by this. Luckily for Dungeness, a long standing group of concerned citizens has come together to work out the issues. Only a few outliers, mainly private property owners, are fighting it. The Dungeness River Management Team has been working together for over 20 years on the issue, and making great progress.

Whatcom County must make sure there is enough available water before issuing permits for new developments in rural areas, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Oct. 6. The decision overturned a February 2015 state Court of Appeals ruling, which had favored the county by saying, in effect, that the county did not need stricter rules to regulate water wells on rural properties. Kie Relyea reports. (Bellingham Herald)

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article106834517.html

The core decision:

“The GMA requires counties to ensure an adequate water supply before granting a building permit or subdivision application. The County merely follows the Department of Ecology’s “Nooksack Rule”; 1 it assumes there is an adequate supply to provide water for a permit-exempt well unless Ecology has expressly closed that area to permit-exempt appropriations. This results in the County’s granting building permits for houses and subdivisions to be supplied by a permit-exempt well even if the cumulative effect of exempt wells in a watershed reduces the flow in a water course below the minimum instream flow. We therefore hold that the County’s comprehensive plan does not satisfy the GMA requirement to protect water availability and that its remaining arguments are unavailing. We reverse the Court of Appeals in part and remand to the Board for further proceedings.”

https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/914753.pdf

Water rights bill passes state Senate committee – Skagit Valley Herald

Another bad bill from our Republican controlled Senate.  Want to get around the rules to protect the water sources for rivers and aquifers for community waters sources so you can use as much as you want? Our state is legally charged with protecting water levels in rivers  for endangered salmon. In the Dungeness Basin, for example, the Dungeness River Management Team has brought together a wide array of stakeholders, for over 20 years, to come up with water management of the river and it’s flows. Now a couple of disgruntled people are pushing for a change that would give a workaround for collaborative processes like these. I doubt the Supreme Court would find this possible law constitutional, given their earlier ruling.

A state legislative bill that would give landowners a process for overwriting water use regulations tied to instream flow levels passed its first committee in the state Senate on Thursday. The bill, which passed the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee, still needs to go through the Senate Rules Committee before it could see a floor vote, according to a news release from the office of Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. Senate Bill 6584, sponsored by Pearson, would task the state Department of Ecology with devising a method of determining if a landowner’s water supply affects instream flow levels of a river, which the bill calls “proof of water reliance.” The bill is of importance to landowners in the Skagit River basin. A 2013 state Supreme Court ruling effectively revoked water rights from well users in the basin when the river is below a certain level. Brandon Stone reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

http://www.goskagit.com/all_access/water-rights-bill-passes-state-senate-committee/article_086697fb-e342-5118-9bc3-dd19f1e8a5e6.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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