History & Water Heroes

photo of Ralph and Anne Johnson
Ralph & Anne Johnson

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy was co-founded by University of Washington Law School Professor Ralph W. Johnson and Rachael Paschal Osborn in 1993 to serve as a voice for the public interest in water resource management and preservation in Washington State. They recognized that water belongs to us all, and that the Public Trust Doctrine should be used to protect this precious resource for humans, wildlife, and life itself.

Professor Johnson’s scholarship on the Public Trust Doctrine provided the foundation for innumerable legal actions and policy initiatives to protect each citizen’s right to clean water flowing in our rivers and streams. His scholarship on Federal Indian Law and close relationships with Native American Tribes of the Pacific Northwest informed our dedication to working closely with Tribes on water matters.  CELP became an independent nonprofit in 1995. Professor Johnson passed away in 1999.

Rachael Paschal Osborn, now a retired public interest water lawyer, has been involved with CELP’s work from the beginning. Rachael served as CELP’s first Executive Director, and in many other roles since. Rachael’s work and scholarship in water, environmental and climate change law has led the way for our work and the work of many others.

True to Ralph and Rachael’s vision, CELP has improved water laws in Washington State and protected rivers and streams throughout Washington and the Columbia River basin.

In honor of Professor Johnson’s genius and advocacy, CELP names its award for exemplary service on behalf of Washington’s waters and people in his honor: the Prof. Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award.

Ralph Johnson Awardees Include:

Chairman Billy Frank Jr. accepting the award in 2012 on behalf of the NW Indian Fisheries Commission
Chairman Billy Frank Jr. accepting the award in 2012 on behalf of the NW Indian Fisheries Commission

2020- Professor Robert Anderson

2019- Larry Wasserman

2018- Sara Foster, Laura Leigh Brakke, David Stalheim, Eric Hirst and Wendy Harris

2017 – Dr. John Osborn

2016 – Professor William H. Rodgers Jr.

2015 – Upper Columbia United Tribes

2014 – Ann Aagaard

2013 – Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

2012 – NW Indian Fisheries Commission

2010-2011 – Russell Busch & Harriett Bullitt

2008 – Mickey Gendler

2006 – Rep. Nancy Rust

2004 – Benella Caminiti

2001 – Rachael P. Osborn

Read more about the Water Heroes here.