100 Years of Water Law - Logo

2017 AWRA Washington State Conference - The 100 Year Anniversary of the Washington Water Code: Where we came from and where we’re going, October 3, 2017

Water today – water for the next hundred years - ECOconnect October 3, 2017

Washington water law protects your water resources - June 6, 2017 ECOconnect

100 Years of Water Law

We are commemorating Washington’s first water law, which is turning 100 this year. The 1917 law was needed to address conflicts over the use of water, a resource held in common by Washington state citizens. Over time, the law has been changed to ensure that competing needs are addressed, including water to support the environment and fisheries, growing communities and individual homes, farms, and industry.

Over the past 100 years, the law has changed because of court decisions related to conflicts between water users, the role of tribal treaty rights, and environmental concerns that have increased protection for important fishery resources and species threatened with extinction. These court decisions have dramatically changed the way we manage water. The water law continues to evolve and play an important role in Washington water management.

We’re commemorating this centennial anniversary by reflecting on the past and looking to the next 100 years. We encourage you to learn more and find out what the water law means for you and for our shared future.

What is the water law?

The 1917 water law is the foundation for how we manage this precious resource. It guides our decisions and planning.

The 1917 water law established “prior appropriation” as the means for establishing rights to surface water – rivers, streams, springs, or lakes. This means that anyone applying for and receiving a water right first has priority over those applying later. This tenet of water law is known as “first in time, first in right.”

The 1917 law also requires surface water users to have a water right permit or certificate. Later, in 1945, the Legislature expanded prior appropriation to groundwater, which is water drawn from a well.

Where are we today?

Our challenges today are very different from those in 1917. Back then, water seemed like an unlimited resource. Now, we’re ensuring water resources are managed to meet agricultural needs and a growing population, while at the same time protecting existing water rights, important fisheries, and other environmental resources. The next 100 years will bring new challenges, such as climate change and increasing water demand.

Story Map and Video Series for 100 years of water law

Explore the past, present, and future of Washington water

These multi-media resources are informative, thought-provoking presentations that offer an introduction to Washington water law and the history of water’s importance to people, farms, industry, and fish. They will be particularly useful to homeowners, educators, historians, civic planners, and anyone who appreciates the abundance, productivity, and beauty of Washington waters.

100 years of water law – Infographic set:

Twelve posters about water

Twelve posters that are sure to start a conversation about how water is used, managed, and threatened by increasing demand and a changing climate.

100 years of water law – Infographic set

100 years of water law - Esri Story Map:

How Washington's water law shapes our lives

Interactive Story map experience for everyone who is interested in learning how Washington’s water laws have shaped our lives. It also takes a look at the next 100 years and what issues the state will need to address

100 years of water law story map

100 years of water law - video:

Where your water comes from

Where your water comes from

100 years of water law - video:

A history of Washington state water rights

A history of Washington state water rights

100 years of water law - video:

Landowner's guide to Washington's water law

A landowner's guide to Washington's water law


Dave Christensen
Program Development and Operations Support