Lee First is co-founder and Waterkeeper of Twin Harbors Waterkeeper. Please describe your relationship to…
During the 2019 legislative session, the state directed and provided funding to the Department of Ecology to assess watersheds that would benefit most from a water right adjudication process.
Adjudication is one tool in our water management toolbox. It is a process that brings all water users in a watershed into one big court process that leads to full and fair water management by confirming legal rights to use water. The process legally and permanently determines everyone’s water rights in that area. It creates certainty around water use and helps secure water for future use.
CELP's Position and Argument
The Center for Environmental Law & Policy strongly urges Ecology to select the Nooksack River basin (WRIA 1) as the next Washington basin to be adjudicated.
The Nooksack is an important river system that supports native runs of wild chum, chinook, coho, and pink salmon, as well as other salmonids including bull trout and steelhead. All forks of the Nooksack, as well as the mainstem downstream of their confluence, are designated as critical habitat for Puget Sound Chinook and for Puget Sound Steelhead. The instream flow set by Ecology in 1985, is likely inadequate for fish habitat, and even as such is already frequently unmet. Any further reduction in flows would be harmful to critical habitat and to the listed salmonid populations, and thus impermissible.
The Tribes with reserved fishing rights in WRIA 1 (the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe) have requested action by the Federal Government to judicially determine their reserved water rights, including water for instream flows to protect their rights to fish and in turn the habitat on which those rights depend.
Furthermore, the Nooksack appears to suffer more from unpermitted and illegal diversions than other rivers in the state. Numerous surface diversions from the River that appeared not to be associated with valid water rights have been brought to Ecology’s attention in the past.
Adjudication of the basin would also provide important incentives for wise water management. The process would provide a formal acknowledgement that there are limits to water availability, which would incentivize efficiency in water use. Moving forward, climate change will only exacerbate conflicts by reducing future summer flows, which is why it is critical to complete the adjudication now.
2. Advocating for Nooksack River Adjudication