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Washington Supreme Court Decision Protects Instream Flows, May Slow Rural Development

by Dan Von Seggern

In an important new groundwater use decision, the Washington Supreme Court held that a county must ensure water is legally available before permitting development. This means that County land use planning must take water availability into account, and the County may not simply rely on Ecology’s instream flow rules to approve development.

Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (“Hirst”) involved a challenge to Whatcom County’s Comprehensive Plan ordinance. Under the Growth Management Act, counties develop Comprehensive Plans that designate certain areas for particular types of uses. A County’s  GMA plan must “protect the environment and enhance the state’s high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water.” Among other types of use, the GMA requires that counties set aside land for “rural” development. This rural element must include measures regulating development to protect water resources.

Like other parts of Washington, Whatcom County faces increasing pressure on its water supplies, and most of the available water has already been spoken for. Ecology’s Nooksack River instream flow rule establishes instream flows for the Nooksack River and other streams in the basin. The Nooksack Rule closes most of the county to further appropriations of water, but says nothing about permit-exempt wells. The County’s rural land planning ordinance merely incorporated Ecology’s Rule – like the Rule, it did not address permit-exempt wells.

Hirst challenged the County’s rural land planning ordinance, on the grounds that it failed to protect rural water resources because it did not address rural permit-exempt well use. The Board agreed, finding that the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Element did not adequately protect water resources. The Court of Appeals reversed the Board, holding that because the County’s planning ordinances were consistent with Ecology’s Rule, the County need not further regulate groundwater use. This ruling left Whatcom County’s groundwater essentially unprotected, as there were no limitations on the use of permit-exempt wells in much of the county. Hirst then petitioned for review by the Washington Supreme Court (CELP submitted an amicus curiae brief supporting Hirst et al.).

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that a county must protect groundwater supplies when developing its Comprehensive Plan, and simply deferring to Ecology’s Rule is not adequate. Justice Wiggins’ decision explains that the GMA places a duty on a County to make determinations of water availability. Because Whatcom County’s ordinance did not require a determination of water availability, it did not comply with the GMA. The decision reaffirms and extends the earlier Kittitas County v. Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board case, in which the Supreme Court held that counties were responsible for land use decisions that affect groundwater resources.

Hirst is the latest in a series of Supreme Court decisions that extend protection for groundwater and instream flows against over-appropriation. It will have far-reaching effects on protection of groundwater and the associated streamflows and in reducing sprawl caused by unrestricted rural development.

Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, No. 91475-3 (October 6, 2016).

Read the full decision here.


Water “CPR” needed for extremely low Spokane River

H2KNOWriverlow-1

News Release  – August 30, 2016

Public Water Alert

Inland Northwest residents encouraged to use Water CPR:

Conserve – Protect – Reuse

Despite cooler weather in forecast – Spokane River water levels are in the red

Contacts:

Spokane River 8-30-2016 741 cfs

Spokane River today, August 30, 10:30 a.m. – flows at 741 cubic feet per second. People’s Park – confluence of Hangman Creek and Spokane River.

Spokane – Today river advocates again called on their neighbors and Spokane City water managers to turn down the spigots, and turn off sprinklers. Spokane River flows dropped below 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) – the state-mandated minimum flow – more than a week ago, and have been running at or below 750 cfs most of this week.    

“Think about our river and aquifer as one,” said John Roskelley, former Spokane County Commissioner with the statewide Center for Environmental Law & Policy.   “The water we use from the aquifer is water lost to the river for fish and wildlife habitat. Remember water CPR: conserve, protect, reuse. Water is our most important resource – let’s not waste it.”

PC16824waP

Spokane River 8-30-2016 741cfs

Watering alleys in the City of Spokane, wasting water. August 30, 2018. Meanwhile, the river is gasping for water.

People can take five actions that will conserve water and help the Spokane River:

  1. Reduce outdoor watering (especially stop over-watering law grass)
  2. Replace lawn with low-water plants
  3. Fix broken or clogged pipes and sprinkler heads
  4. Fix leaks in all plumbing fixtures
  5. Install water-efficient devices (such as low flow toilets and shower heads)

“Our water bills don’t begin to reflect the true cost of water,” said Tom Soeldner, retired Lutheran Pastor with the local Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club. “The real water bill for this region is being paid for by the Spokane River – the fish, wildlife, and people whose jobs depend on the river. The immediate action we can take to right this wrong is to stop using water unless it’s essential.”

The Inland Northwest is notable for its hot, dry summers. Water used by 600,000 people in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene region comes from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, which also supplies the Spokane River. Large municipal wells that are close to the River, such as the City of Spokane’s Well Electric facility, can have an immediate depleting impact on river flows.

“These low river flows are hard on fish,” said Sam Mace, who frequently fishes the river. “When the Spokane River flows are in the red, people who care about the river should be seeing red. We can do better, all of us, in using water wisely to protect the Spokane River.”

Spokane River flows are monitored at the USGS Monroe Street Gage, a measuring device located just downstream of the Monroe Street bridge. Interested parties can watch flow trends on the web or in the local newspaper.

The H2KNOW campaign is a community-based water conservation project to help the region recognize the intimate relationship between the Aquifer and Spokane River, and the need to conserve water to help protect the Spokane River.

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March Edition of Washington Water Watch!

Check out the latest issue of Washington Water Watch!

In this issue, you’ll find an article on the takeaways for water resource issues from the legislative session, our petition for higher water flows on the Spokane River, an article by CELP Staff Attorney Dan Von Seggern on protecting instream resources in Washington, and more.

 

 


January/February Edition of Washington Water Watch is Out!

Check out the latest issue of Washington Water Watch!

This edition features water issues in the legislature, an update on Dungeness River litigation, and news about the WSU Water plan and Columbia River Treaty letter. Meet our new Development and Outreach Coordinator and learn about our upcoming events in Spokane and Idaho, our call for photos and stories and more.


CELP Is Looking For A Development & Outreach Coordinator!

Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), is seeking candidates for a Part-time Development and Outreach Coordinator position in Seattle, WA. CELP is a Washington State based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring our rivers, streams, and drinking water aquifers through agency advocacy, legislative reform, litigation, and public education.

Applicant should have at least some fundraising or organizing experience, strong writing and editing skills, excellent communication skills, ability to work collaboratively with staff and volunteers, and commitment to protecting the environment.  Needs to be detail oriented, organized and able to set priorities and handle multiple tasks.

Under the direction of the Executive Director, duties include but not limited to the following:

  • Development & Fundraising: Assist Executive Director with fundraising activities including direct mail, events and donor management.
  • Public Outreach: Draft and edit press releases, e-mail alerts and monthly newsletter. Maintain and update website and social media.
  • Administrative: Assist Executive Director with administrative activities and board meeting preparation including deposits, and general office administration.

Requirements:

AA or higher degree preferred.

CRM database management skills required, Salesforce experience is a plus.

Proficient with Office 10

Experience with Constant Contact and WordPress desirable.

Must have a valid drivers’ license, proof of insurance and reliable transportation.

Non-profit salary D.O.E.

E-mail cover letter, resume, and references to Trish Rolfe at jobs@celp.org by January 1st

CELP is an equal opportunity employer and actively works to ensure fair and equal treatment of its employees and constituents regardless of differences based on culture, socioeconomic status, race, marital or family situation, gender, age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, physical ability, or sexual orientation.

 


July Edition of Washington Water Watch is Here!

Icicle Creek - photo by John Osborn

Icicle Creek – photo by John Osborn

Check out our July edition of Washington Water Watch! 

In this issue you will find an article discussing why CELP has resigned from the Icicle Work Group, a profile of one of our board members, John Roskelley, an announcement that CELP has sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) associated with the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, and more.

Celebrate Water Silent Auction

We are excited to announce there will be a Silent Auction during this year’s Celebrate Water Reception. Auction packages include beach and mountain vacations, artwork, exotic wines, and more!

Click here to read the most up to date list of items you can bid on to support CELP.

100% of proceeds from the auction will benefit CELP!


In Honor of One of the Northwest’s Greatest Leaders: Billy Frank, Jr.

 Billy FrankToday, we lost one of the nation’s and the state’s greatest leaders:  Billy Frank, Jr.

Billy Frank, a Nisqually tribal member, changed history.  He helped spark the grassroots resistance of tribal people in the late 1960s and 1970s against Washington State’s illegal policy of prohibiting fishing off-reservation. Billy was arrested over 50 times during the “fish wars” as were many other tribal leaders.  That struggle ended up in the courts.  United States v. Washington, also known as the Boldt decision, made the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington co-managers of the salmon resource with the State of Washington and re-affirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to western Washington. 

Billy did not rest after that monumental victory, but ceaselessly advocated for stewardship of the blessings we enjoy here in the Northwest: the fishery and the environment that supports and sustains us all.  His advocacy was grounded in the wisdom of his family, his tribe, and the generations that preceded him.  Billy’s activism ended up restoring habitat destroyed by hydroelectric plants, protecting tribal lands, and promoting cooperative management of natural resources.  Most recently, Billy took up the contentious issue of Washington’s fish consumption rate—as a civil rights and an environmental issue—urging the Governor not to increase the “acceptable” exposure rate to carcinogens in fish to increase industry profits.   http://nwifc.org/2014/03/put-people-profits/

CELP was honored to have Billy serve on its honorary board of directors for many years.  In 2012, CELP awarded the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which Billy headed for thirty years, its Ralph W Johnson Award in 2012 in honor of the Commission’s work to preserve the waters of this state for all Washingtonians.  As CELP said at that time: “In these days when the government agencies tasked with protecting our waters, fish, and wildlife are relegated to protecting their budgets, the advocacy of the Commission has been a critical force in preserving the public’s interest in our rivers, streams, and aquifers.”     

We at CELP offer our deepest condolences to Billy’s wife and family, his colleagues and friends at the Commission, and the members of the Western Washington tribes that the Commission represents. 

We are all grieving the loss of a leader and a friend who worked to unite us all, never flinched from a tough position, and whose warmth and wicked sense of humor kept us going.  The world is less vibrant with his passing. 


The 4th Annual Environmental Issues Slam

CELP is proud to once again sponsor the annual Environmental Issues Slam, hosted by Washington Foundation for the Environment, on Tuesday, April 22nd at 6:30pm.

Six schools that include strong environmental instruction in their curriculum will be presented by students making five minute presentations.  The students have the length of their presentation to convince the audience that their issue is the most important.  Audience members will vote on the most persuasive presentation and the winner will win a $1,000 grant for environmental education in their school.   We look forward to seeing what these great students come up with!

Find out more from the 2014 Environmental Issues Slam Announcement!