Washington State Department of Ecology - October 3, 2013

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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

Media Contacts:
 Dan Partridge, 360-407-7139, (cell) 360-480-5722, dan.partridge@ecy.wa.gov
 Larry Altose, 425-649-7009, (cell) 206-920-2600, larry.altose@ecy.wa.gov

For more information:

Skagit River Basin - Water Management Rule (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/skagitbasin.html)

Water Resources Program (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/wrhome.html)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)