Keep informed of Skagit water solutions

Ecology is working with local governments, Tribes, the PUD and other water systems, and affected property owners to develop and implement water supply projects.

Skagit River Basin - Water Management Rule

The Skagit River Basin Instream Resources Protection Program Rule (WAC 173-503) went into effect on April 14, 2001. It established instream flows throughout the basin to protect flow levels in streams. In 2006 the rule was amended to establish finite “reservations” of surface and groundwater for future out-of-stream uses. The reservations provided uninterruptible (year-round) water supplies for new agricultural, residential, commercial/industrial and livestock uses, distributed among 25 subbasins.

On October 3, 2013, the Washington Supreme Court ruled 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.

Petition to repeal WAC 173-503

Ecology is posting a copy of the November 20, 2014, petition of the Washington REALTORS, Building Industry Association of Washington, North Puget Sound Association of REALTORS, Skagit-Island County Building Association, Snohomish-Camano Association of REALTORS, Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties, Washington State Farm Bureau and the Just Water Alliance to repeal WAC 173-503 and the January 15, 2015, letter in response.

The law governing petitions for rule making is RCW 34.05.330. This law states that the agency must, within 60 days, either:

Here is a copy of the petition and Ecology's response:

Skagit River Basin Stream Flow Enhancement/Groundwater Mitigation Program

The Department of Ecology is pleased to partner with the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe to develop a water storage and stream flow enhancement project in the Fisher Creek subbasin of the Skagit River. Fisher Creek has been closed to new un-mitigated water uses since 2011.  This project seeks to improve flow conditions by capturing stormwater runoff and retiming flows through a managed recharge facility to enhance flows during low-flow periods.  Work is underway to study the technical feasibility of a storage and recharge project.  As the project progresses, draft products will be available for review and comment.  Please visit the project website for more information:

Ecology and Swinomish Tribe agree 2001-2013 Skagit groundwater use secure while water supply solutions are developed

A total of 475 homes and 8 businesses have relied on Skagit reservations for their water supplies since 2001. Ecology has decided to exercise enforcement discretion and not curtail the water use of homes and businesses that have relied on the 2006 reservations for their water supplies since April 14, 2001. Ecology will be looking for water supply solutions for those homes and businesses affected by the ruling. The Swinomish Tribe agrees existing water uses should not be curtailed while mitigation is being developed.

Skagit River
Skagit River

Skagit River Basin Water Solutions

Ecology is pursuing a number of projects to find water supplies and solutions for property owners in the Skagit Basin. Ecology will be partnering with local governments, Tribes, the Skagit PUD and other water systems, and affected property owners to develop and implement projects. We will be seeking input from the public and will be updating the Legislature on our progress.

USGS scientific report on water well use and stream flows in the Skagit River basin

Ecology now has a water-resource tool for the Skagit Basin. Developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for a multi-year surface and groundwater study, we have a computer model that will aid implementation of the Skagit water-management rule. The study has greatly increased our technical understanding of the water system in the Lower Skagit, including the Carpenter-Fisher subbasin.

Representatives from Ecology, Skagit County, and the USGS held a public meeting on October 6, 2010 to provide more information and answer questions about the model and how it will be used to implement the Skagit rule. If further study indicates that changes in water-use accounting methods are needed, Ecology will seek public input and comment before adopting any changes to the methods laid out in the rule.

  • Ecology News Release - September 15, 2010 - New water-resource tool for Skagit basin; public invited to community meeting for more information

USGS Scientific Investigations Report #2010-5184 (September 2010)

  • Numerical Simulation of the Groundwater-Flow System in Tributary Subbasins and Vicinity, Lower Skagit River Basin, Skagit and Snohomish Counties, Washington By Kenneth H. Johnson and Mark E. Savoca - A groundwater-flow model developed to evaluate the effects of potential groundwater withdrawals and consumptive use on streamflows in tributary subbasins of the lower portion of the Skagit River basin. Prepared in cooperation with the Skagit County Public Works Department and the Washington State Department of Ecology and Skagit County Public Utility District
 Link to USGS Report

Link to Report

Overview of the basin

Skagit River Facts

  • Size: The Skagit River is more than 160 miles long and the third largest river on the West Coast of the contiguous United States, after the Columbia and Sacramento rivers.  It provides about 20 percent of the fresh water flowing into Puget Sound, or nearly 10 billion gallons a day.
  • Location: The river originates in Canada then flows south and west through the North Cascade Range.  With some 2,900 tributaries, it drains 3,130 square miles of watershed in 2,730 square miles in Washington and 400 in British Columbia.
  • Animal Species: 5 species of salmon, globally rare Salish sucker, neotropical migrant birds, bald eagles, fishers, grizzly bear, wolves, trumpeter swan, gray-bellied brant, and many raptors and waterfowl.  The Skagit is the only river system in Washington which supports all five species of salmon. It contains some of the largest and healthiest wild Chinook salmon runs in Puget Sound and the largest pink salmon stock in Washington.

Watershed Planning information:

Additional WRIA information:


Tom Buroker
Phone: (425) 649-7270