Nooksack River Adjudication

What is an adjudication?

Sustainable management decisions about water, a precious shared resource, cannot be made without a baseline knowledge of water rights in a basin. Under Washington law, only a court can make a final determination of which water rights are valid. Adjudication is a court proceeding where the judge examines all water use in a river basin, and determines the extent and validity of water rights in that basin.

Why adjudicate the Nooksack?

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. Protecting the river, its salmon runs, and Tribal fishing rights requires that streamflows be protected. Like other rivers in Washington, diversions of water from the Nooksack threaten habitat for salmon. The Nooksack also appears to suffer more than many other rivers from illegal, unpermitted diversions of water.  By adjudicating water rights in the basin, the state can determine how much water is being legally used as well as gaining control of unpermitted (and illegal) diversions of water.

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.

What is CELP doing on this issue?

We urged the Department of Ecology to select the Nooksack River basin (WRIA 1) as the next Washington basin to be adjudicated. You can read our full letter here.

CELP is now supporting funding in the legislature (SB 5092 / HB 1094) to start the adjudication process for the Nooksack River basin. Find more on this year’s remote legislative session and the bills we are tracking here.