Summer is coming! This month’s issue of Water Watch features information on our upcoming Celebrate Water event, an article on our letter to Governor Inslee about restoring higher flow requirements on the Spokane River, a “Love Letter to a River” by CELP member Pat Sumption, and an introduction to CELP’s newest board member, Jill F. Johnson.
Tuesday, May 31
- Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) (206) 696-2851, firstname.lastname@example.org
- John Roskelley (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) (509) 954-5653 email@example.com
- Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) (425) 417-9012 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tom Soeldner (Sierra Club, Upper Columbia River Group) 509.270-6995 email@example.com
Gov. Inslee has 45 days to decide whether to protect Spokane River flows
Citizens ask Gov. to reopen agency decision that ignored jobs, tourism, boaters, scenery
Spokane – Advocates for the Spokane River are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to grant their petition for protecting all instream values of the Spokane River, including recreational boating opportunities. This is the next step in the citizens’ quest to protect Spokane River flows. A petition was filed in February with the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), and rejected by the agency in April.
The groups are asking Gov. Inslee to protect jobs, the Spokane River, uphold the law, and avoid embroiling the state in more litigation regarding the Spokane River. Citizens’ letter to the Governor reads, in part:
We would like to make it clear that our goal in bringing this appeal to you is to reach an amicable agreement with Ecology to amend the Spokane River Instream Flow rule in a manner that takes into account and protects aesthetic and recreational values, while also protecting fish habitat. While we are simultaneously appealing Ecology’s decision to Thurston County Superior Court, we are required to do so to preserve our appeal rights pursuant to the Washington Administrative Procedure Act. Our hope is that you will be willing to resolve the issues raised in our appeal without the need for protracted litigation. We are asking that you direct the Department of Ecology to re-open the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule and reassess the minimum summer flows that are needed to protect and preserve recreational and aesthetic uses of the river. Because the Petitioners and Ecology agree that higher flows than those protected in the existing rule will not harm the fish, we believe that a mutually agreeable resolution is possible that is best for the Spokane River.
The Spokane River is a beloved urban river that flows through the second-largest city in Washington State, including spectacular waterfalls and a deep gorge. Conservationists seek a minimum summertime flow of 1,800 – 2,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to support fisheries and recreation, and protect higher flows for recreation when available. Ecology set river flows at 850 cfs, far below typical summer low flows. This rule could effectively make every year a drought year for the Spokane River.
Nearly 2,000 comments, including boater surveys and scenic photographs, were submitted to Ecology during the public comment period on the draft rule. The state agency ignored overwhelming public support for protecting Spokane River flows and adopted low river flows that jeopardize the Spokane River and public uses.
The case has statewide significance because Ecology excluded recreation and outdoor recreation-based jobs from its analysis in setting river flows. Annual economic contributions of outdoor recreation to Washington’s economy are about $20.5 billion, supporting nearly 200,000 jobs. Washington’s natural resources should be managed to support outdoor recreation.
The governor has 45 days to respond to the citizens’ petition. Petitioners are Sierra Club, CELP, and American Whitewater, and are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) and Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy).
“We are asking Gov. Inslee for leadership to protect jobs and the people’s river,” said John Roskelley, kayaker, author, and vice president of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Last summer the whole community lived through drought and witnessed the Spokane River reduced to a trickle amid boulder fields. The state has a trust responsibility for our river, and an obligation to protect the state’s outdoor recreation economy.”
“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner, co-chair of Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane. “It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows that also support outdoor recreation and jobs.”
“Excluding rafters, kayakers, and canoeists in setting flows sets a dangerous precedent for Washington State’s rivers,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater “Our state’s river face many demands but ultimately we have a collective responsibility for the stewardship and protection of our state’s rivers, and Department of Ecology must protect the diversity of beneficial uses our rivers provide including recreation.”
“Gov. Inslee has expressed his commitment to encouraging outdoor recreation in the state of Washington and this petition to amend the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule gives him the opportunity to do just that,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center. “We are asking the governor to ensure that recreational uses of the river are not only considered, but protected, as is required by law. The ball is in Gov. Inslee’s court to do what is right for the river so future generations of Washingtonians can recreate on the river for years to come.”
# # #
Center for Environmental Law & Policy
American Whitewater * North Cascades Conservation Council
News Advisory – April 19, 2016
- Andrea Rodgers (Western Environmental Law Center) firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) email@example.com
- Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) firstname.lastname@example.org
When: Wednesday, April 20 at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Seattle – Washington State Court of Appeals, District 1; One Union Square, 600 University St.
What: Oral argument in a challenge to the Washington State Department of Ecology for issuing water rights that would nearly completely dewater a segment of the Similkameen River while burdening ratepayers with substantial costs.
Plaintiffs: Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, and North Cascades Conservation Council – members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition.
Defendants: Washington State Department of Ecology, Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County, Washington, and Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board
Enloe Dam is a cement plug blocking the free-flowing Similkameen River in north central Washington State and British Columbia. The dam has not generated power since the 1950s, with prior efforts to re-energize the dam being rejected by regulators. The local Public Utility District, Okanogan PUD, once again proposes to electrify the old Enloe Dam, almost completely dewatering an important stretch of the river including Similkameen Falls in violation of Washington water law.
Economic studies, including one by the Okanogan PUD itself, conclude that the project would result in substantial financial losses. The economic risks increase when one considers the fact that the water rights to operate the project violate a forty-year-old regulation that protects instream flows for people and fish. If Okanogan PUD were to move forward, then they could spend millions of ratepayer dollars to build a project without water to operate it. Ratepayers in the Oroville area have vigorously opposed the PUD proposal for financial and other reasons.
Despite the fact that a legally required study to assess the impacts of the Project on aesthetic and recreational resources has not been completed, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued a water right to the PUD to divert water from the Similkameen River. River advocates challenged the State’s decision to exploit the public’s waters for an economic loser of a project. On Wednesday, Division 1 of the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case. The attorney for the river advocates is Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center.
On the PCHB (the Pollution Control Hearings Board or “Board”) correctly requiring an aesthetic analysis of dewatering a river — and then incorrectly approving water rights that would dewater the river:
“Ecology granted a water right for this project at the expense of bedrock principles of Washington water law,” said Andrea Rodgers the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the coalition groups. “In particular, the board ruled that it was not necessary to gather information about the aesthetic and recreational impacts of the project until after the hydro project is built. Ecology has put the cart before the horse and in doing so broke laws that protect our state’s precious water resources.”
On the importance of the Similkameen River to the people of Washington State:
“The Similkameen River is a valuable resource to the community for recreation, scenic values, and fish and wildlife. As with other rivers across the state, recognition of the importance of flows for aesthetic and recreational purposes is important to our organization. We will continue to press legal issues that protect the Similkameen River and Falls as multi-use public resource given the significance of this decision for rivers statewide,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director with American Whitewater.
On the statewide significance of this case:
“The water permitting process is designed to make sure that the public’s waters are allocated wisely and protected from over-exploitation. In this case, the Department of Ecology issued a permit that would remove nearly all water from this stretch of the river without ensuring that aesthetic and recreational values would be protected. The Enloe Dam appeal sends a message of statewide significance that the Department of Ecology must promote balanced use of Washington’s waterways,” said Dan Von Seggern with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.
News Release – April 6, 2016
Spokane River PCB Cleanup is Not Adequate:
Federal Appeals Court Dismisses State-County Appeal
Spokane County, Kaiser, and Department of Ecology had challenged decision to protect Spokane River
- Rachael Paschal Osborn (Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 509.954-5641 email@example.com
- Richard Smith (Smith & Lowney, PLLC) 206.860-2124 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dan Von Seggern (Center for Environmental Law & Policy) 206.829-8299 email@example.com
- Ted Knight (Spokane Tribe of Indians) 509.953-1908 firstname.lastname@example.org
Spokane: Advocates for the Spokane River hailed an April 5 decision by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing the appeal filed by Spokane County, Kaiser Aluminum Washington, LLC, and the State of Washington Department of Ecology (State Ecology). The Ninth Circuit decision lets stand the U.S. District Court’s ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot substitute the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, a polluter-dominated committee process, for a cleanup plan for Spokane River PCBs.
“The sewage and industrial treatment plants such as City of Spokane and Inland Empire Paper are moving forward with pollution control projects, but absent a clean-up plan, there is no target against which to measure success. After spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, these plans may not measure up,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn of CELP and Sierra Club.
The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs and other toxic chemicals. Despite years of analysis, Ecology and EPA have failed to prepare a clean-up plan for the River. State and EPA-issued pollution discharge permits for municipal and industrial treatment plants in Washington and Idaho do not contain numeric standards limiting the release of toxins into the Spokane River. The Washington Department of Ecology is due to renew those permits this year, but the agency is not expected to include numeric limits for toxics.
In 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force. Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.
Sierra Club & CELP filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015. EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. On April 5, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This means that a CELP-Sierra Club challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document will now move forward in District Court.
“Spokane River fish continue to be heavily contaminated with PCBs,” said Rachael Osborn, senior policy adviser for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Spokane River Project Coordinator for Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group. “Obtaining a PCB cleanup plan is essential to public health and especially important for people who eat fish from the Spokane River, including immigrant populations and Spokane Tribal members.”
“After years of delay on the part of the agencies, the Court today rejected the state’s ‘fox in the chicken coop’ strategy of putting the polluters in charge of a cleanup plan,” Osborn continued, “Instead, the Court has ruled that a real cleanup plan, prepared within a reasonable timeframe, is required.”
THE MARCH 2015 U.S. DISTRICT COURT DECISION:
Judge Rothstein’s March 2015 decision found that the Task Force is not a proper substitute for a Clean Water Act-mandated limit on PCBs (Total Maximum Daily Load, or “TMDL”), stating (at page 21):
There comes a point at which continual delay of a prioritized TMDL and detours to illusory alternatives ripen into a constructive submission that no action will be taken. With the Task Force as presently proposed, Ecology is coming dangerously close to such a point, and with EPA’s support. Accordingly, the Court finds that the EPA acted contrary to law in finding the Task Force, as it is currently comprised and described, a suitable “alternative” to the TMDL.
Judge Rothstein also ordered EPA to report back to the Court within 120 days with a specific plan to complete a PCB TMDL (at page 22):
. . . EPA shall work with Ecology to create a definite schedule with concrete goals, including: clear statements on how the Task Force will assist in creating a PCB TMDL in the Spokane River by reducing scientific uncertainty; quantifiable metrics to measure progress toward that goal; regular checkpoints at which Ecology and the EPA will evaluate progress; a reasonable end date, at which time Ecology will finalize and submit the TMDL for the EPA’s approval or disapproval; and firm commitments to reduce PCB production from known sources in the interim.
MORE ABOUT PCBs and TMDLs:
PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States. Washington State formally recognizes that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs. The Department of Ecology issues pollution permits (known as NPDES permits) to companies (such as Inland Empire Paper and Kaiser) and municipalities, allowing them to pollute the Spokane River up to certain thresholds.
When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires a cleanup plan (a TMDL) before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River. The Washington Department of Ecology is attempting to sidestep the law by not preparing a PCB cleanup plan, and issuing NPDES permits anyway.
Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Richard Smith and Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.
In this issue, you’ll find articles about Ecology’s Rural Water Supply Workgroup, the success of CELP’s December 3rd CLE event, and our most recent job opening. You will also be introduced to our new Board Chair and Vice Chair, Daryl Williams and John Roskelley, enjoy the poetry of Tina Wynecoop, and more.
Decision part of growing concern about Department of Ecology mismanaging state’s waters in face of climate change
On October 8th, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Ecology’s approval of the City of Yelm’s new water right because the new right would impair existing instream flows in local streams and the Nisqually River. The Court concluded that the state agency’s decision was unlawful because Ecology improperly used a narrow exception in the water code to issue the right, and because Ecology relied on out-of-kind mitigation measures to justify issuance of the water right. The legal action brought by Sara Foster, a small farm owner in the City of Yelm, was filed in 2011 because of concerns that overpumping groundwater would adversely impact local waterways. This latest decision is set in the context of growing criticism about the Department of Ecology’s mismanagement of the state’s waters through historic over-allocation of water rights and in the face of climate change.
“The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms the state’s responsibility to protect instream flows,” said Patrick Williams, attorney for Sara Foster. “The decision makes it clear that Ecology must abide by state water laws when approving new water rights.”
The Foster decision means that the Department of Ecology, which is responsible for managing the state’s waters, cannot issue new water rights that will permanently deplete protected flows in rivers.
“I’m thrilled with the decision because it means the water levels in streams in rivers I, and others, enjoy so much will be protected now and in the future,” said Sara Foster, plaintiff in the case.
The Foster decision reaffirms a 2013 Supreme Court decision in a case brought by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to protect stream flows in the Skagit River basin. In Swinomish, the Court held that Ecology could not use the narrow water code exemption permanently impair existing instream flows through water reservations for future use. Pursuant to today’s decision, Ecology cannot issue individual water rights that would impact instream flows. Together, Swinomish and Foster underscore that Ecology cannot continue to deplete river flows to meet future water demand.
“It is time for the state to look at water efficiency and conservation and water reuse for new sources of water instead of taking water from instream flows,” added Williams. “The water frontier is over.”
The Foster decision also holds that Ecology may not use non-water environmental restoration projects as a basis for issuing water rights. Ecology has issued a handful of water right decisions allowing river depletion in exchange for activities such as wetland restoration, floodplain easements, placement of large woody debris in rivers, and monetary payments.
“Ecology is increasingly relying on “out-of-kind” mitigation projects as a basis for issuing new water rights,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, senior policy adviser for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Today the Court has clarified that habitat projects or monetary payments cannot substitute for water. This is a very good decision for Washington’s over-allocated and much-depleted rivers and aquifers.”
The Center for Environmental Law & Policy provided support to Sara Foster through its Water Rights 9-1-1 program helping citizens struggling with water resource issues, and filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case.
Check out the September edition of our newsletter, Washington Water Watch. You will find an article on our recent legal action to stop pollution from the Leavenworth Hatchery, Ecology’s new Reclaimed Water Rule, an update on our H2KNOW campaign, and information about a conference we are sponsoring about modernizing the Columbia River Treaty, “One River. Ethics Matter”. You will also find information about CELP’s upcoming events.
In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find an update on Washington’s drought, an article about the H2KNOW campaign currently going on in Spokane, a profile of Frank James, one of CELP’s board members, and more water news.
Check it out here.
New Participation Requirements by State’s Icicle Work Group Ends Collaboration, Prompts CELP to Resign
CELP resigned from the Washington State Department of Ecology -sponsored Icicle Work Group (IWG) on July 20th because of changes in its operating procedures that essentially eliminate the ability of CELP and other non-profits to meaningfully participate in this public process.
The new rules include changes to the decision making process from consensus to majority rule, a prohibition on public disagreement, and a prohibition on members filing suit even if a another participant is breaking the law. These changes basically eliminate any dissenting opinions, and hamstring CELP and other participating groups from meaningfully impacting the water policy decisions made by the IWG.
In 2012 the Department of Ecology and Chelan County asked CELP to join several state and federal agencies, two local irrigation districts, the City of Leavenworth and other non-profits in the “Icicle Work Group” (IWG), an advisory committee funded and convened by Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. Ecology stated that the purpose of the Icicle Work Group (IWG) was to solve instream flow problems in Icicle Creek while obtaining more water from the system for out-of-stream uses. CELP has actively participated in IWG’s efforts ever since.
Last November, after repeatedly encouraging the IWG to better inform the public about one of the group’s more controversial options – building and automating irrigation dams and pipelines in the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness – CELP undertook a public outreach effort. Legislators and conservation leaders statewide took notice. To stop this effort, the Office of Columbia River made changes to the IWG operating procedures, and sent a letter informing participants they would need to agree to the new rules, or be removed from the workgroup.
Under these conditions, CELP could not continue to participate in a process that is inconsistent with our mission to protect Washington State’s rivers and aquifers by advocating for science-based, sustainable water management through public education and outreach, advocacy and public interest litigation. CELP will however continue to pursue other efforts to protect Icicle Creek.
For more information about the IWG’s Alpine Lakes proposals, click here.
Our June edition of Washington Water Watch is now available. Check it out here!
This month, we profile our new board member, Brady Johnson, discuss our intervention into a law suit filed that challenges the Dungeness Instream Flow Rule, update our work on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations, highlight a petition to restore Moxlie Creek and more.