Friday, February 9, 2024 This legislative session, CELP submitted an initial budget proviso that would…
Water is a hot issue in the legislature this year, and CELP is currently working on a several bills. The majority of them are focused on the Skagit River instream flow rule, some seeking repeal or amendment, others seeking productive solutions in water short areas.
In November 2014 The Washington Realtors, Building Industry Association, and Farm Bureau filed a petition with Ecology, calling for a repeal of the original Skagit River instream flow rule. CELP opposed the repeal because it was inconsistent with the 2013 Swinomish Tribal Community v. State of Washington Supreme Court decision. Instream flow rules have been an issue in Skagit County for decades. The original rule, set in place by Ecology, does not allow unmitigated new domestic wells. In 2005, Skagit Valley sued to overturn the rule, at which point Ecology adopted an amendment that created “water reserves” in tributaries. Two years ago, Swinomish Indian Tribe successfully challenged this amendment, and the original rule was reinstated.
The following bills CELP opposes, but they have passed out of committee and are headed for a floor vote in the Senate:
SB 5129 states that domestic water supply should be an “overriding consideration of public interest.” This bill will create a “super priority” for domestic wells, and Department of Ecology will have to allow their use, even if that means reducing water supplies for existing water rights holders and instream flows. This patchwork solution does not address the larger issues we face, including diminishing water supplies due to over-appropriation, and climate change.
SB 5136 would lead to Ecology’s repeal of the Skagit Instream Flow Rule. This undermines all the work that has been previously done to protect salmon in the Skagit River. Again, this bill is a patchwork solution, and will inhibit progress towards sustainable water allocation.
SB 5407 would allow uninterrupted use of exempt wells in Skagit Valley. The bill presumes that these domestic wells have no impact on instream flows. The current system requires new users to demonstrate that their well will not harm existing water right users. This bill would shift the burden to Ecology to prove that a single well is having a negative impact on instream flow levels, before they can limit any withdrawals. This bill also disregards the cumulative impacts unlimited withdrawals of new and existing wells may have on instream flows. CELP will work with our water allies to stop these bills.
There are also several bills that CELP has concerns with. They are:
SB 5965 directs Ecology to study mitigation for permit-exempt wells, including out of kind mitigation. CELP does not oppose the study, but wants clarity that out of kind mitigation cannot serve as a bargaining chip in exchange for water withdrawals.
SB 5018 would waive the anti-degradation requirement of groundwater quality standards for aquifer storage and recovery projects. The anti-degradation law is an important catch-all to address pollutants that are not covered by federal drinking water standards. Also, the bill’s requirement to “protect aquatic resources” is vague and should be strengthened to ensure that all biotic communities are protected.
There are also a number of bills that CELP supports. These bills provide a more balanced approach to water resource allocation:
HB 1793 works within the framework of existing instream flow rules to provide property owners, located in areas of limited access to legal water withdrawals, the tools for alternative water procurement. CELP supports this bill, because it presents a balanced approach to water allocation that is beneficial for both humans and fish. Most importantly, it proposes alternative solutions in Skagit Valley, where water resources are under stress.
SB 5014 outlines best practices for water banking. Water banking has proved to be a sustainable alternative water resource for homeowners living in areas with limited water resources, including Kittitas County. The legislature should promote this important water supply alternative.