State Supreme Court ruling removes public, legislature voice from river flow decisions, gives Ecology total control

Decision harms recreational users and businesses statewide, devaluing recreation as a river use

For immediate release: August 7, 2020

Contact:

SPOKANE, Wash. – Today the State Supreme Court ruled against protecting flows in the Spokane River, rejecting arguments of river advocates, upholding the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology)’s drought-level flow rate decision. The decision subverts the will of the state legislature, granting total control over river flows in Washington state to Ecology and establishes a superficial role for public input the agency is free to ignore. Nothing in the court’s decision, however, prevents Ecology from restoring Spokane River flow rates to levels that will sustain and restore fish, support the recreation economy, and revive the river character of Spokane.

At the center of the conflict between river advocates and Washington state officials is whether water flowing in the Spokane River during hot summer months should be protected for community recreational and aesthetic use, river fish, and wildlife – or if Ecology should be allowed to take more water from the river by granting more water rights.

The State Supreme Court decision dooms the Spokane River to drought flows every summer. With such low flows set by the state, salmon will not return to the Spokane River.”

Trish Rolfe, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.

In July 2019, the State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sierra Club, CELP and American Whitewater, holding that the Washington Department of Ecology failed to protect Spokane River flows as required by the Water Resources Act. Ecology appealed, and yesterday the State Supreme court ruled in the agency’s favor.

“We brought this case because we believed the law was clear: Ecology was required to protect the Spokane River to protect and when possible enhance wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic and other environmental values, while also protecting navigation. Despite this clear direction from the legislature, this ruling allows Ecology to pick and choose winners and losers, literally leaving some folks high and dry.”

Andrew Hawley, Staff Attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center

“This State Supreme Court ruling harms recreational users and businesses statewide by devaluing recreational use of rivers. In the interstate conflict between Idaho and Washington over water, the Evergreen State failed to protect water for Washingtonians.”

John Osborn, physician and Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group conservation chair.

“The Spokane River is an incredible community resource for recreation and public enjoyment. We are disappointed that this week’s ruling sets the path toward lower flows, reduced river health, and fewer opportunities for recreational boaters. Despite today’s ruling that will make our work more challenging, we remain committed to continue our work to protect instream flows.“

Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater’s Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director.

Background:

Beloved and imperiled, the Spokane River flows through the second-largest city in Washington state, cascading over spectacular waterfalls and cutting a deep gorge. In most summers, enough water flows in the river to support fishing, river rafting, and other outdoor recreation. River advocates asked the court to hold the Department of Ecology (Ecology) to its duty to protect fish and wildlife, scenic, aesthetic and recreational values, and navigation, when establishing the minimum summer flows allowable for the Spokane River.

In setting instream flows, Ecology failed to account for boaters who use the Spokane River, fishermen who pursue the river’s wild redband trout, and businesses that depend on river-based recreation. Ecology also failed to conduct a basic assessment of the scenic values of the Spokane River as it flows through the gorge and Riverside State Park – important to users of the Centennial Trail and others.

Overall, Ecology ignored all public comments in support of protecting the Spokane River and adopted unchanged its flow rule of 850 cubic feet per second (CFS) – near-drought level river flows that will jeopardize the Spokane River and its public uses.

Need to protect recreational use of the Spokane River

In the proceedings, the foremost national experts on recreation and aesthetic flow concluded Ecology’s adopted flows are inadequate to support most types of recreational boating on the river.

Fish need water

Spokane River fisheries need cold, abundant water. Today, the State Supreme Court upheld Ecology’s “data-free” conclusion that 850 CFS is best for fish as justification of its decision not to protect higher Spokane River flows.

Issue experts concluded the state’s flow rule – setting the Spokane River flow rate below the Monroe Street Dam in the summer at 850 CFS – is inadequate to protect and restore a healthy redband trout population, and that the study prepared to support the State’s chosen river flow was flawed. Ecology could have accommodated the needs of other water users without sacrificing fish.

Protecting aesthetics in the city’s heart

“Our city owes its origins, its beauty, and a great deal of its past and present life to the Spokane River.  It would be a betrayal of the river and our identity if we did not maintain healthy and aesthetic river flows.”

– Tom Soeldner, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group based in Spokane

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Washington Water Watch: June 2020 Edition

Letter from the Executive Director

Dear friends of CELP,
We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. As CELP staff continues into its fourth month of working from home, we continue to stay focused on our mission, but our work continues to change as this crisis continues. Our outreach has changed considerably as we say goodbye to our Outreach Coordinator of three years, Nick Manning, who just graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy at the University of Washington and has moved on to fight climate change with another organization. Congratulation Nick, and good luck in your new job. We have also had to change our outreach plans as all the events and programs that we had on our calendar for the summer were canceled because of COVID-19. Going forward we will be transitioning to virtual outreach events and reaching out by phone and email to continue to do this important work, please feel free to reach out to us if you want to join us in protecting Washington’s water resources. Our legal and policy work continue with virtual hearings and meetings. 

CELP continues this important work to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s waters now for future generations because our water resources face tremendous challenges. The impacts from Climate Change and increased development have impaired our rivers and streams, and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. But we can’t do it alone. We rely heavily on support from individuals like you, so if you are able please support CELP’s important work by donating on our website, www.celp.org.


In this issue you will find an update on the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule case, a BIG thank you, our Chehalis River dam proposal comments, an introduction to our 2020 interns, our 2019 annual report, and information on our upcoming Celebrate Water event.

Sincerely, 

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read the Full Newsletter: https://conta.cc/38f5vnf


Watch as CELP argues our case before the Washington State Supreme Court: Spokane River Instream Flow Rule

CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY, AMERICAN WHITEWATER, and SIERRA CLUB,
          Respondents,

    v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY,
          Petitioner.
Dan Von Seggern
Ted Howard
Andrew Hawley



Hon. Bob Ferguson
  Stephen H. North
  Clifford Hiroshi Kato

When: The case will be heard on May 14th 2020 at 9:00am
How to View: Anyone can watch the case on TVW.org here

Background: The Spokane River’s Instream Flow Rule (WAC Chapter 173-557) was adopted in 2015.  

Instream flow rules are intended to protect a wide variety of instream values and uses, including fish & wildlife, recreation, navigation, and aesthetic values. In adopting the Spokane River Rule, Ecology considered only the needs of fish and adopted a summer flow of 850 cubic feet per second. This is a near-drought level for the river and would be devastating to whitewater rafting, kayaking and other recreational uses of the Spokane.

In 2016, along with American Whitewater and the Sierra Club, we filed a challenge to the Rule’s summer instream flow. We argued the state was required to consider all uses of the river, not just habitat needs of fish, in adopting instream flow rules. The challenge was initially denied in the Thurston County Superior Court.

In 2017, we appealed the Superior Court’s decision to the Court of Appeals, Division II. In 2019, the court ruled in favor of CELP and the Spokane River advocates, finding that Ecology failed to protect summertime flows needed by the river and other instream flow values.

Ecology requested review of the Court of Appeal’s decision by the Washington State Supreme Court, which accepted the case. CELP Staff Attorney Dan Von Seggern will argue our case before the Court on May 14th, 2020. We will continue to fight for an instream flow rule that protects the Spokane River and its users. 


Washington Water Watch: March/April Edition

Arianna Signorini

Dear friends of CELP,

We wanted to check in with you. We hope you are staying safe and healthy. All of us at CELP are happy to connect with you during this time. We are fortunate to be working from home and would love to find ways to talk with our supporters, share ideas, and interact with our community.

We are facing an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 outbreak. We have all been impacted and we understand that it is a difficult time for everyone.  Our priority is the safety of our staff, their families, and our community. We are navigating the situation to the best of our ability and continue to work to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s waters now and for future generations. 

CELP continues to do this work because our water resources also face tremendous challenges.The impacts from Climate Change and increased development have impaired our rivers and streams, and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. 

We understand it is a stressful time for everyone. If you have the capacity to renew your membership or make a donation we greatly appreciate your contribution. Above all we want to stay connected to you, our community, and our common goal of protecting our waters. Our hard work would not be possible without you. You can use our secure website, www.celp.org, to support CELP’s work.

We also want to encourage you to support your local businesses and restaurants, front line workers, other nonprofits, and each other during this difficult time. Together we are stronger.

In this issue you will find a wrap up of the legislative session, a recap of Winter Waters, and information on GiveBIG Washington, our 25th anniversary, Celebrate Water’s new date, and water stories. 

 Sincerely, 

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read the full newsletter: https://conta.cc/34rO68R


Washington Water Watch: February 2020 Edition

Dear friends of CELP,

This year started off unusually warm and wet with Seattle experiencing its 3rd warmest January on record and the wettest start to the year in over a decade. January was Washington’s 12th warmest on record and among its least snowy. February has also had record-breaking warm days and there were numerous floods across Western Washington. This trend is worrisome for our water resources with more rain and less snow during the winter months leading to droughts during the summer. Thankfully we have received a lot of snow in the mountains in the last few weeks and our snowpack is now over 100% of normal. We will be monitoring what happens in the next few months to see if we will experience another drought. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we have been working hard in Olympia to protect Washington’s waters. This year’s legislative session has kept CELP very busy dealing with over a dozen water bills. But our hard work would not be possible without you. We rely on generous donations from our members and supporters to hold our lawmakers and agencies accountable for protecting Washington’s rivers and streams. If you haven’t renewed your membership for 2020, you can do it today on our secure website, www.celp.org.

In this issue you will find information about water banking, water bottling, the legislative session, a call to action, Clean & Abundant Waters lobby day, the Spokane River Instream Flow Rule, upcoming events, and Water Stories. 

Sincerely, 

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read the Full Newsletter

Sol Duc Falls Olympic National Park by Julie Titone

Honoring Spokane businesses, American Whitewater for River Protection

For Immediate Release (February 26)

Honoring event will launch campaign to protect Spokane River, a test case for rivers statewide

Contacts:

Summary: The 13th annual Winter Waters celebration is jointly hosted by the Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club and CELP.  UCR Group, based in Spokane, will honor “Spokane River Flow Champions.”   Link to event webpage.

Who is being honored:

Timing, historical significance:    2020 is a pivotal year for protecting a clean, flowing Spokane River.  Decisions about how to manage water quantity and quality in the Spokane River have consequences for rivers throughout Washington.

Protecting Spokane River summertime flows.   In July 2019, the State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Sierra Club, CELP and American Whitewater, holding that the Washington Department of Ecology failed to protect Spokane River flows as required by the Water Resources Act. (link). Ecology appealed, and on May 14 the state Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the case.

Spokane businesses – ROW Adventures (Peter Grubb), Silver Bow Fly Shop (Sean Visintainer), and FLOW Adventures (Jon Wilmot) – actively assisted in the petition and lawsuit asking the State to recognize and protect impacted businesses when setting flows for the Spokane River.  

The Upper Columbia River Group is also honoring Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater, for his central role in protecting the Spokane River.  American Whitewater is the primary advocate for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States.  

Cleaning up the Spokane River’s PCB pollution.  Water quality in the Spokane River is already compromised, and now faces two major threats, from both the Trump Administration and the State of Washington.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back fish consumption standards that control toxic PCBs.  These watered-down standards threaten public health.

The Department of Ecology is also weakening clean water standards through its new “Variance” process, which will allow municipal and industrial polluters to continue to put large quantities of PCBs into the Spokane River.  In 2020, the State will hold public meetings and take public comment on the Variance proposal. 

Launching a statewide campaign for a clean, flowing Spokane River.  At the March 6 honoring event, Sierra Club will launch a statewide effort to involve the public in agency decisions regarding the Spokane River.  With tribes leading efforts to restore salmon to the Upper Columbia Basin, Sierra Club’s campaign seeks clean, flowing water to support the return of spawning salmon to the Spokane River.

When: Friday, March 6th, 2020 6:00 pm- 9:00 pm 

Where: Spokane’s Historic Patsy Clark Mansion, 2208 W. 2nd Ave

Tickets: $40 per person, $70 for two (purchase online or at the door-please RSVP).  

Quotes (from the legal challenge to protect summertime flows, Spokane River):

       Peter Grubb, ROW Adventures:

“The importance of the Spokane River to those living and recreating in the area cannot be overstated. In fact, I believe that the Spokane River offers the best natural whitewater experience available in a major U.S. city. It offers a whitewater experience that is accessible to a broad cross-section of users, from beginning rafters to experienced whitewater paddlers.” 

“The 850 cfs [cubic feet per second] flow that was enacted as a minimum flow in the final Spokane River Instream Flow Rule could eliminate a major portion of our business. We have found that the whitewater trips at higher flows are more popular with clients than the float trips at lower flows. Because the Instream Flow Rule only protects low river flows (e.g. 850 cfs) for much of the summer season, it would reduce the amount of time that we can run whitewater trips and our business would be adversely affected.”

       Sean Visintainer, Silver Bow Fly Shop:

“River flow is critical for my business. In addition to absolute water levels, the aesthetics of the river determine how likely clients are to want to fish. At 750 cfs fishing the Spokane is far less attractive, and even at 850 cfs people are likely to choose other activities over fishing.  I believe that a higher minimum summer flow would be very helpful to my business. The river habitat is more productive for fish at higher levels, and the aesthetics are much better than at lower flows. At or below 850 cfs, the habitat where fish are found is more fragmented, water temperatures may be higher in some stretches, which is not good for trout, and the water moves at a much slower pace.
I estimate that we lost approximately 40 guiding days in the summer of 2015 due to the low river flows. At times we were unable to navigate portions of the river due to low water. Fishing restrictions due to the low flows and high temperatures (fishing was restricted to before 2:00 PM) also reduced fishing opportunities.”

       Jon Wilmot, FLOW Adventures:

“The Spokane River is a critical amenity for the city of Spokane and the surrounding area, and is one of the most popular recreational features of the area. Because of its proximity to the city, it is possible to run half-day or one-day trips without the need to drive significant distances. This outstanding accessibility makes Spokane River trips feasible for visitors with limited time. I am not aware of any other city that has this kind of local whitewater experience available to visitors. I depend on the River for a major portion of my business, and my ability to operate on the River is dependent on adequate instream flows.”

Event sponsors:  * Upper Columbia United Tribes * Adventure Travel Trade Association/Adventure 360 * Eymann Allison Jones Law Firm * Northwest Whitewater Association * American Whitewater  * Hydropower Reform Coalition * Columbia Institute for Water Policy * Rachael & John Osborn * Linda Finney & Tom Soeldner * Morton Alexander & Paige Kenney * Joyce & John Roskelley * Suzy Dix-Windermere * Allen “AT” Miller-Lukins & Annis Attorneys at Law * Jeff Lambert * Kathy Dixon & Barbara Rasero * Fred Christ *


CELP Summer Internship

Skagit River. Taken by Brian Walsh

We are accepting applications for a Summer 2020 Legal Intern at our Seattle office.

We seek a legal intern with a demonstrated interest in environmental issues to work on projects aimed at establishing protected instream flows.  Qualified candidates will have completed their 2L year and taken an environmental law course.  Coursework or clinical experience in administrative law is preferred. Exact internship dates are flexible depending on academic schedules, but generally run from June – August and last 90 days. Please email a CV, a writing sample, and references to Dan Von Seggern, Staff Attorney  at dvonseggern@celp.org 

Deadline for applications is March 15th.


Washington Water Watch: January 2020 Edition

Dear friends of CELP,


Happy New Year everyone! CELP is entering 2020 focused on our mission to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s waters. 


This year we will continue our outreach to connect people to the impacts of climate change and water scarcity issues. We will continue to act in the community, participate in streamflow restoration workgroups, work with Native American Tribes to honor and support their treaty rights and tribal fisheries, and advocate for sustainable instream flows. When our water is threatened we will use litigation to protect and defend Washington’s rivers and drinking water aquifers.


We are starting the year strong and working hard in Olympia to protect Washington’s waters during the legislative session. Our hard work would not be possible without you. We rely on generous donations from our members and supporters to hold our lawmakers and agencies accountable for protecting Washington’s rivers and streams. Please consider helping us continue this important work by making a donation today!


In this issue you will find information about Snowpack levels, the 2020 Legislative Session, Clean and Abundant Water Lobby Day, the latest Columbia River Treaty town hall, a big thank you to the Kalispel Tribe and to all of our supporters, and upcoming events.

 Sincerely,

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Full Newsletter

Methow River. Elan Ebeling.

Washington Water Watch: November Edition

Photo: Kayla Jo Media

Dear friends of CELP,


As the year winds down, the state drought declaration for 27 watersheds remains in effect, expiring April 4th, 2020.  As winter approaches, snowpack levels continue to be less than average. These levels are critical to water supplies and replenishing aquifers. Our rivers and streams are already struggling to meet minimum instream flows, and climate change is further impacting our water supplies.


That’s why CELP has been working to protect and restore stream flows in watersheds around the state – work that is now more critical than ever. But we can’t do it alone. We rely on generous donations from our members and supporters to hold our lawmakers and agencies accountable for protecting Washington’s rivers and streams. Please consider helping us continue this important work by making a donation today!


In this issue, you will find information about the South Puget Sound chum run, CELP in the community, #GivingTuesday, and our Winter Continuing Legal Education workshop.

 Sincerely, 

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

For Full Newsletter: https://conta.cc/2XEAEer


Remembering Pat Sumption

John & Rachael Osborn:

First, let us thank Pat’s three sons – David, Cameron, and Chris – especially for helping their mother in the last part of her life’s journey.

Pat Sumption was a consummate environmental activist. She was dauntless, persistent, strategic, and unerring in her sense of the right thing to do, especially for Washington’s rivers. She worked for decades for the protection of the Green River, including standing up to Tacoma’s ever-thirsty water grab through the infamous Pipeline Five.

Rachael uncovered an essay Pat herself had written and published in the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) newsletter in 2016. Here are Pat’s words from “Love Letter to the Green River”:


I didn’t mean to fall in love with the Green River. It just happened. It just grew like Topsy.

I discovered rivers when I went to Girl Scout camp at 12. We did a multi-day hike on the Dosewallips. We swam in the river and nearly froze our toes, and it was beautiful and I was in love with the Dosewallips and rivers everywhere. So it was inevitable when someone aimed me at a river canoe, that I would get in it and try paddling. And, I guess it was inevitable when I was told to choose my favorite Washington river at a State Rivers Conference in the 1980’s, that I would choose the Green. It is the color of my eyes, after all, and I had to choose something.

All those at the Conference who chose the Green (even if their eyes weren’t), were sent to one corner and told that our task was to form a Green River group which would then work on protecting our chosen River. There must have been other fanatics in our Group, because we did just that: we formed Friends of the Green River and started raising money and incorporating a non-profit. And the more I did for the Green, the more I fell in love with it.

The Green River has a secret that gets many people hooked on it. Part of it is hidden in a deep, quiet gorge that’s almost inaccessible except by boat. Boaters come from all over the world to boat the Green River Gorge. It’s untrammeled, pristine, gorgeously draped in damp green mosses and ferns – a fantasy, watery, world of Green.

But, the Green River has 2 dams on it. The Corps of Engineers built a dam for flood control in the middle of the 20th Century. Tacoma then built a smaller dam downstream . . . [to pipe] Green River water to municipal customers in Pierce County.

Those dams meant problems for the ecology of the Green, and for recreational boaters. They were threats to the salmon and steelhead runs of the Green River; there was no fish passage for either dam.

By the 1980s, Tacoma had plans to build a new water supply pipeline through south King County rather than directly to Pierce County and Tacoma, because they wanted to sell some of that water to the water districts and towns in south King County along the way.

Friends of the Green River (FOG) had been created to protect the Green and its watershed, including not allowing more water to be taken from the River. FOG appealed … the permits to build the new Pipeline through King County where it would cross a number of streams, wetlands, etc. …

We eventually … negotiated with Tacoma and a 1995 Agreement gave us a number of things that could help the Green River, its habitat, its salmon and perhaps even its white water boaters. …

Remember, it takes a community to care for a river and its watershed.


And this from Elaine Packard, friend and colleague in advocacy for Washington’s rivers:

“Pat was a longstanding member of the Sierra Club’s Water & Salmon Committee which she chaired for a time. For decades, she was one of its most dedicated members, serving as activist, as well as mentor and advisor. And Pat brought institutional memory along with her expertise about water. Anyone who worked to protect rivers in Washington: she knew them and she’d probably worked with them.

Pat’s training as a lawyer gave her a laser mind on issues. But it was her love of rivers that inspired her to serve in many leadership roles with Sierra Club, Friends of the Green River, CELP, Rivers Council, and other groups. She will be missed and remembered fondly for her commitment, her persistence, and her special charm. She was a respected elder in the Chapter whose memory will not be forgotten.”


In closing, rivers and future generations, depend on us to give them a voice. Pat gave voice to rivers.

On the day before Pat’s life celebration, Rachael and I sat and talked about Pat. How is it that someone with such a powerful presence can be among us on one day, and then be gone the next? Where are they? Where did they go?

Flowing through forests and human communities in western Washington is the Green River. Pat may be gone. Pat’s spirit? Pat remains with the river she so deeply loves. Let Pat’s love and work for rivers carry on through all of us.