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Washington Water Watch: February Edition

Check out CELP’s February edition of Washington Water Watch! In this issue: an update on water legislation making its way through the State Legislature, an article on the Grays-Elochoman & Cowlitz watersheds, and updates on our upcoming events.

Read the February issue of Water Watch here.

 


Watersheds to Watch: the Grays-Elochoman & Cowlitz

WRIAs 25 and 26 are located in southwestern Washington, and include large portions of Lewis, Cowlitz, Skamania, and Wahkiakum counties. WRIA 25, known as the Grays-Elochoman watershed, encompasses the Grays and Elochoman Rivers, and Skamokawa, Abernathy, and Coal Creeks. WRIA 26, designated as the Cowlitz watershed, includes the upper and lower Cowlitz Rivers, Cispus, Tilton, Toutle, and Coweeman Rivers, and Mayfield Dam. Both WRIAs include many subbasins that drain into the Columbia River, however, they do not encompass the Columbia River itself.

WRIAs 25 & 26 are critical watersheds for fish – they include 24 subpopulations of salmon and steelhead listed under the ESA, more than anywhere else in the lower Columbia region. In addition, the Cowlitz basin is one of the most densely farmed areas of western Washington, and water is over-appropriated. A 2012 Department of Ecology Water Availability report for the Cowlitz watershed describes a need for further regulations to manage the basin’s water supply, including an instream flow rule as well as closing critical subbasins to future water withdrawals. The report also lists 17 river and creek basins that had been listed as “restricted” or “closed” to new uses as determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Surface Water Source Limitations.

Although the Department of Ecology acknowledges the need for regulations in WRIAs 25 and 26, the rulemaking process has not been completed. The Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board (LCFRB) began work on a joint watershed plan for the Grays-Elochoman and Cowlitz basins in 1999. In 2006, a draft of the plan was unanimously adopted by Wahkiakum, Skamania, Lewis, and Cowlitz counties. The 2006 plan recognized that climate change will impact streamflows, and determined that water usage was already beyond a sustainable level. Among the plan’s recommendations were instream flow rules for 10 rivers and streams, many closures of various subbasins, and the establishment of reservations in each basin to ensure an adequate water supply for future uses.

In 2008, the LCFRB issued a Detailed Implementation Plan for WRIAS 25 and 26, and the Department of Ecology began the instream flow rulemaking process. In mid-2010, however, the rulemaking process was halted. The Department of Ecology provides two reasons for this on their website: “public concerns on the level of local participation, supply for rural water users in the Cowlitz watershed (WRIA 26), and ground well metering,” and “Gov. Gregoire’s Executive Orders 10-6 and 11-03, suspending non-critical rule development and adoption in 2011 and 2012.” In response to public concerns over the proposed water restrictions, particularly in the Cowlitz, the LCFRB released revisions for the WRIA 26 Cowlitz Watershed in 2014. While the 2006 plan recommended that all subbasins in the Cowlitz basin be closed to new groundwater withdrawals (save for reservations and domestic wells), the revised plan included the complete opening of the lower Cowlitz watershed to future withdrawals. In addition, Ecology agreed to remove the metering language from the plans to appease concerned residents.

Despite the easing of the original plan’s water use restrictions (and the fact that both of Governor Gregoire’s Executive Orders cited by Ecology are long expired), there is still no instream flow rule for WRIAs 26 and 26. Especially in critical regions where water resources have been over-appropriated for years, setting regulations like instream flow rules cannot be delayed. CELP urges the Department of Ecology to follow up on its priority of setting instream flows for WRIAs 25 & 26 to ensure adequate water for people, farms, and fish in the Grays-Elochoman & Cowlitz basins.

If you are interested in helping to secure protections for the Grays-Elochoman & Cowlitz watersheds, please email CELP at contact@celp.org.

January 2017 Edition of Washington Water Watch

Check out the latest edition of our monthly newsletter, Washington Water Watch. In this month’s issue you’ll find an article on the current water bills in the Washington State legislature, an update on CELP’s recent motion for summary judgment in the Leavenworth National fish hatchery case, an article on the Lyre-Hoko watershed, and a notice about our upcoming Spokane event, Winter Waters.

Read the January 2017 issue of Washington Water Watch here.


Watersheds to Watch: WRIA 19 Lyre-Hoko

This is the first in a series of blog posts examining unprotected watersheds in Washington State.

 

Background on Instream Flow Rules in Washington State

 

In 1998, the Washington State Legislature passed the Watershed Management Act, which provides a framework for local governments, affected Indian Tribes, citizens and stakeholders to develop plans to manage the water resources within their watershed. There are 62 watersheds or Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs, pronounced “Why-rahs”) within Washington State.

In addition to the mandatory issue of water quantity, planning groups may choose three optional components to include in their plans: making instream flow recommendations that the Department of Ecology can use to establish instream flows by rule, water quality, and fish habitat. While some of the 62 watersheds have recently adopted instream flow rules (like the Dungeness Rule which was adopted in 2013, and which CELP successfully helped to defend in court in 2016), far more have instream flow rules that are decades old or no instream flow rule at all.

Instream flow rules act as a “water right for the river,” and function the same way as any other legal water right, protecting instream resources from future water withdrawals. These rules are important for ensuring that there is enough water in rivers and streams to provide for clean water, fish habitat, recreation, and aesthetics, and are especially important given the threat of climate change and the state’s historic drought of 2015.

 

WRIA 19: The Lyre-Hoko

 

WRIA 19, designated as the Lyre-Hoko watershed, is located in Clallam County in the northwestern most part of the Olympia Peninsula, spanning from the tip of Cape Flattery to just west of the Elwha River basin. WRIA 19 encompasses the major waterways of the Lyre, Seiku, Hoko, Clallam, Pysht, East and West Twin Rivers, and Salt and Deep Creeks, which drain directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca along with many other smaller streams.

CELP has identified WRIA 19 as a critical watershed in Washington State. The Olympic Peninsula was one of the first three regions where Governor Inslee declared drought conditions in 2015 (the Lyre-Hoko watershed was named specifically along with the Quilcene-Snow, Elwha-Dungeness, Sol Duc-Hoh, and Queets-Quinault). WRIA 19 is also an important watershed for salmon – it encompasses 27 separate salmon-bearing rivers and streams that support Chinook, chum, and coho. Although the watersheds in the Lyre-Hoko area don’t support salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act, the nearshore areas of WRIA 19 serve as an important migratory corridor for salmon populations (including those listed under the ESA) leaving or entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca. According to a 2015 Salmonoid Restoration Plan for WRIA 19 published by the North Olympia Peninsula Lead Entity for Salmon, however, many of the salmon populations in individual basins are considered depressed or critical, and are projected to decline.

Despite its obvious need for protection, WRIA 19 does not have an instream flow rule. Clallam County formed an official planning unit under the Watershed Management Act and initially unanimously agreed on instream flow recommendations in 2005, but disagreement over the specific numbers ultimately killed the plan in 2010 (here’s a link to the planning unit’s 2009 draft plan). While the Makah and Lower Elwha Clallam tribes supported the proposed instream flow numbers in the interest of fish habitat and adequate stream flows, the Clallam County PUD opposed them as being too high to allow for continued development and human consumption, (the timber industry also firmly opposed parts of the plan relating to riparian buffers). With the groups at an impasse, the planning process unraveled, and no plan was approved.

If a local planning unit fails to agree on a plan, the responsibility for instream flow rulemaking falls back to the Department of Ecology. Although it is unclear whether Ecology has an obligation to enact an instream flow rule in this circumstance, the fact remains that there is ample evidence that a rule needs to be put in place. In its own 2011 report on water availability in the Lyre-Hoko watershed, the Department of Ecology stated that the Department of Fish and Wildlife had recommended against issuing new water rights in sections of WRIA 19 “in order to protect fish populations.” Despite the fact that much of the requisite research and work was done in the nearly decade long local planning process, there remains no instream flow rule in place for the Lyre-Hoko watershed six years later.

Ecology has provided protection for many watersheds around the state – for example, CELP worked with the Department of Ecology to successfully defend the agency’s instream flow rule for the Dungeness River in 2016. However, CELP urges Ecology to take timely action in critical watersheds like the Lyre-Hoko in order to ensure healthy flows, abundant water for future generations, and plentiful habitat for fish.

If you are interested in helping to secure protections for the Lyre-Hoko Watershed, email CELP at contact@celp.org.