OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will not require Skagit Basin well owners who established groundwater rights between April 14, 2001, and Oct. 2, 2013, to curtail their water use after a recent court decision overturned a 2006 state water rule.
In 2001, Ecology adopted an administrative rule establishing minimum instream flow rights for the Skagit River system. In 2006, Ecology amended the rule to establish 27 reservations of water that were not subject to the senior minimum instream flow rights.
An instream flow is a water right for a river or a stream that protects and preserves instream resources like fish habitat. A reservation is a specific amount of water set aside for specific uses in watersheds closed to new water appropriations.
On Oct. 3, 2013, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled in Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Department of Ecology that Ecology exceeded its authority in establishing the 2006 reservations. The decision reinstates the 2001 Skagit Instream Flow Rule. Under the 2001 rule, water rights established on or after April 14, 2001, are subject to curtailment when the senior minimum instream flow rights are unmet.
Ecology Director Maia Bellon has decided to exercise enforcement discretion and not curtail the water use of 475 homes and 8 businesses that have relied on the 2006 reservations for their water supplies since April 14, 2001. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, which successfully challenged Ecology’s decision to establish the 2006 reservations, supports Ecology’s decision if the impacts of the 483 water uses are fully mitigated.
“The Swinomish Tribe supports the 2001 Rule because it is a good rule based on sound science that was the result of a collaborative effort by the State of Washington, Skagit County, the public water purveyors, and the three Skagit Treaty tribes,” said Swinomish Tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “We recognize that nearly 500 landowners are in a difficult situation and support Ecology’s decision not to take enforcement action while mitigation plans are developed and implemented to ensure that their water use and any future water use does not impair the senior instream flow rights and does not adversely affect salmon. The Swinomish Tribe is committed to collaborating with Ecology on this effort.”
“We are grateful to the Swinomish Tribe for their cooperation and understanding of our efforts to assure well owners that their water supplies are secure while we focus on finding sustainable water supply solutions for the Skagit Basin,” Bellon said.
“We welcome the tribe’s advice and consultation on the Skagit Basin’s water supply problems as we work with local partners to ensure stream flows are protected and the needs of existing and future water users are met,” Bellon said.