History & Accomplishments

photo of Ralph and Anne Johnson
Ralph & Anne Johnson

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy was founded by University of Washington Law School Professor Ralph W. Johnson in 1993 to serve as a voice for the public interest water resource management and preservation in Washington State. Professor Johnson recognized that water belongs to all of us, and that the Public Trust Doctrine should be used to protect this precious resource for humans, wildlife, and life itself. His scholarship in the Public Trust Doctrine has since provided the foundation for innumerable legal actions to protect each citizen’s right to clean water flowing in our rivers and streams. True to Professor Johnson’s vision, CELP has improved water laws in Washington State and protected rivers and streams throughout Western Washington and the Columbia River.

With the leadership of Professor Johnson, CELP became an independent non-profit in 1995.

Professor Johnson also established the Native American Law Center and the Asian Law Center at the University of Washington Law School.  The full range of Professor Johnson’s scholarship is on-line at the Law School’s Gallagher Library website.  http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/raljohnson.html

Professor Johnson passed away in 1999.  In honor of Professor Johnson’s genius and advocacy, CELP has named its award for exemplary service on behalf of Washington’s waters and people in his honor: the Ralph W. Johnson 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 Camitti

2001 – Rachael P. Osborn

Here are some of CELP’s notable achievements:

  • Established “standing” for citizen challenges to state water right decisions (1995)
  • Won recognition of interrelationship between ground and surface waters (1996)
  • Shut down issuance of new groundwater rights in Yakima River Basin (1998)
  • Defeated the water-squandering gold mine on Buckhorn Mountain (2000)
  • Convinced Ecology to meter all water rights in critical salmon watersheds (2001)
  • Established mitigation standards for new water rights (2003)
  • Prevented local initiative from vetoing state water resource protections (2006)
  • Protected Hines Marsh trumpeter swan habitat from developer’s wells (2007)
  • Helped win recognition of counties’ responsibilities to protect instream flows and existing water rights in issuing building permits (2011)
  • Defeated legislation that would have allowed new wells to suck dry environmental flows in rivers throughout Western Washington (2012)
  • Required Spokane County’s new waste water treatment plant to limit new discharges of PCBs into the Spokane River (2013)
  • Saved Similkameen Falls from being dewatered for a new hydroelectric project (2013)
  • Appealed a large, new unmitigated water right from the Columbia River (2014)
  • Organized an international alliance to support modernizing the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada – including a call for restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia basin and including ecosystem functions as a goal of the Treaty (2014)
  • Worked with allies to call for the removal of the Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River near Oroville (2015)
  • Won a challenge against an insufficient EPA clean-up plan for ploychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination and helped to clean up the Spokane River (2017)
  • Ensured that the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery will begin monitoring and reporting its pollution discharge into Icicle Creek (2017)
  • Built relationships with community members, recreation business owners, and Native American Tribes in areas with unprotected watersheds by hiring a Water Policy Organizer (2018)
  • Took the first steps to remove the Enloe Dam alongside partner organizations by filing several lawsuits that in part pressured the Okanogan County Public Utility District to table plans to re-electrify the dam (2018)
  • Coordinated our first Clean & Abundant Water Lobby day, assembling a coalition of organizations, activists, scientists, and fishermen from across Washington to raise their voices in support of our water resources (2019)
  • Filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals and helped shut down Crown West’s scheme to abuse municipal water law (2019)

Yet, with all the victories we have celebrated, more work remains to meet the challenges of climate change and increased population. CELP seeks to reform our antiquated water laws and policies so that our future water use is truly sustainable for people and for the environment.