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Washington Water Watch: May & June Edition

EDIT: The newsletter includes a save the date for Celebrate Waters. The date has since changed to September 9th.

Press Release

Dear Friends,

As we approach summer, we at CELP are keeping an eye on our water resources. This winter and spring we received plenty of snow that resulted in a heavy snowpack. Snowpack is a critical frozen reservoir that is released over the spring and summer as it melts. This spring much of the state has had warmer temperatures and below normal precipitation. Even with our current snowpack, there is concern that it will not last through the driest parts of the summer. Soil moisture is also an indicator of how much snowpack makes it into the rivers. In dry conditions the soil acts as a sponge and less snowmelt is added to stream flows. For our rivers that rely on precipitation more than snowpack there is even greater concern.

The Department of Ecology issued a drought advisory the end of May for most of Washington state, including all areas east of the Cascade Mountains, portions of southwest Washington and the Washington coast. The advisory acts as an early warning of possible drought to promote awareness and readiness. This is the first time the Department of Ecology has issued a drought advisory since it received the authority to do so from the Legislature in 2020. In the 2020 legislative session, CELP supported and advocated for Ecology’s drought preparedness bill. We are hopeful this action improves awareness among water users and increases readiness to respond to drought and conserve water.

As we all come out of the long COVID lock down, change and growth are coming to CELP. We are thrilled to introduce our new Water Policy Outreach Coordinator as well as our new Legal Intern. We are looking forward to them bringing new energy and ideas to our work. While we have adapted to working remotely, we are excited to be going back into the office soon and getting to work as a team in person. And this month we say goodbye to a long-time employee, our staff attorney Dan Von Seggern. We wish Dan the best in his new position, and we are excited to add a new staff attorney. 

In this issue you will find an update on our legislative success, an update on watershed restoration plans, a welcome to our new team members, water and fish in the news, a GiveBIG thank you, and a save the date for Celebrate Waters.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read Full Newsletter: https://conta.cc/35hoGMu


Washington Water Watch: March Edition

Dear Friends,

It has now been over a year since the start of the pandemic, and all our lives have changed. We hope you and your loved ones have stayed safe and well. All of us at CELP have adapted to our new normal of working remotely and spending a lot of our time in Zoom meetings. But even with these challenges, we have been able to continue our important work to protect and restore Washington’s waters. We have participated in watershed restoration work groups finding solutions to restore stream flows impaired by new permit exempt wells, and we continue working with stakeholders to find solutions to water speculation and improve the water trust and banking systems.

We have also taken this time to find inspiration and think about how CELP accomplishes our mission of protecting, preserving, and restoring waters across the state now and into the future. We envision a water management system in Washington state that is more equitable and sustainable to support healthy ecosystems, thriving fish and wildlife, and robust communities. These are big goals, but with your help, we are ready to do the work.

In this issue you’ll find a wrap up of Clean & Abundant Water lobby week, an update on the legislative session, the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation’s webinar on adjudication, CELP’s letter to Ecology with concerns over Crown Columbia’s application for an area-wide water permit, water and fish in the news, and appreciation for our members.

Sincerely,

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read the full newsletter here.


Washington Water Watch: Jan. & Feb. Edition

February 16th 2021 

Happy New Year! We are starting the new year with a new administration, and with it hope for federal progress on clean and abundant water, strengthening tribal treaty rights, and modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.  

Photo of a winding road through snow and trees taken from an aerial view.

Here at home, we started the year with an atmospheric river soaking the pacific northwest. Seattle had the wettest start to the year in history. Olympia and Hoquiam also broke rainfall records in the first few days of the year. Now in February, snowstorms have moved across the state blanketing Seattle and the Puget Sound area. Snowpack in the Olympics and Cascades are at normal or slightly above normal levels. This is all good news for our stream flows for now. 

Everyone at CELP wants to say a big THANK YOU to all of our supporters. We know 2020 was a difficult year for many people, organizations and businesses and we are immensely grateful for your donations, time, ideas, and dedication to protecting our waters. With your support, we were able to face challenges head on and continue our work protecting our waters. We look forward to what we will accomplish this year together.

In this issue you’ll find introductions of our new board members and changes in board leadership, information on the 2021 legislative session and the bills we are tracking, salmon in the news, Rachael Osborn’s paper reflecting on the Water Resources Act of 1971, a call for applications for our 2021 legal internship, and congratulations to our 2020 Water Hero honoree and longtime friend Bob Anderson. 

We are hopeful for the future. As we move forward this year, our priorities are getting Streamflow Restoration Plans approved and getting water restoration and mitigation projects in these plans funded. We are also working to help get the adjudications of the Nooksack and Colville watersheds started and working with Ecology to restart instream flow setting for unprotected watersheds. These are big plans, but with your continued support we can make great strides to achieve them. 


Sincerely,

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read the full newsletter here: https://conta.cc/3qstIii


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

Washington Water Watch: May 2019

Dear friends of CELP,

As you may have heard, Governor Inslee declared an emergency drought declaration back in early April. Since then, he has expanded that declaration to nearly half of the state. Poor water supply conditions and warmer and drier weather predictions through the summer have us extremely worried. 

Snow pack conditions are less than 50% of the average for this time of year, and the Washington State Department of Ecology is expecting a warmer and drier summer than in year than years prior. All this makes CELP’s work more critical than ever, but our work would not be possible without supporters like 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.  Renew your membership today on our secure website. In this issue you will find information about this year’s Summer CLE, Celebrate Water, CELP’s involvement in your community, and a legislative wrap up highlighting some wins for water laws in the most recent legislative session.  

Sincerely, 
Trish Rolfe
Executive Director
trolfe@celp.org

View the full report here: https://conta.cc/2EH1UAF


Hirst Update: Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Committees

by Trish Rolfe
Last session, the Washington State Legislature passed a streamflow restoration law, ESSB 6091, in response to the Supreme Court’s

Hirst decision. Hirst changed how counties could approve or deny building permits that use permit-exempt wells for a water source.

The law, RCW 90.94 Streamflow Restoration, helps protect water resources while providing water for rural residents reliant on permit exempt wells. The law directs local planning groups in 15 watersheds to develop or update plans that offset potential impacts to instream flows associated with new permit-exempt domestic water use. The law splits up these watersheds into two groups: those with previously adopted watershed plans and those without.

The Nooksack, Nisqually, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Okanogan, Little Spokane, and Colville basins all have previously adopted watershed plans. For these seven basins, local watershed planning units are to update their watershed plan in order to compensate for the impacts of new permit exempt well uses.
The law identifies the Nooksack and Nisqually basins as the first two to be completed. They have until February 2019 to adopt a plan; if they fail to do so, Ecology must adopt related rules no later than August 2020. Planning units in the Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Okanogan, Little Spokane, and Colville basins have until February 2021 to develop their plans. Until watershed plans are updated and rules are adopted in these seven watersheds, new permit-exempt wells require only payment of a $500 fee. The maximum withdrawal is 3,000 gallons per day per connection on an annual average basis.

Deschutes River – Photo from WA Dept of Ecology

Eight other watersheds do not have previously adopted watershed plans. They are Snohomish, Cedar-Sammamish, Duwamish-Green, Puyallup-White, Chambers-Clover, Deschutes, Kennedy-Goldsborough, and Kitsap. For these eight basins:

  • Ecology will establish and chair watershed committees and invite representatives from local governments, tribes, and interest groups.
  • The plans for these watersheds are due June 30, 2021.
  • New permit-exempt wells require payment of a $500 fee.. The maximum withdrawal is 950 gallons per day per connection, on an annual average basis. During drought, this may be curtailed to 350 gallons per day per connection for indoor use only.
  • Building permit applicants in these areas must adequately manage stormwater onsite.

CELP has been appointed to participate on the Snohomish, Cedar-Sammamish and Duwamish-Green watershed planning units, and we have volunteers participating in several others.

The law also provides $300 million until 2033 for projects that will help fish and streamflows. Watershed planning groups will recommend proposals for funding by Ecology to achieve this.

Protecting Rivers and Salmon in a Post-Hirst Future: Hard Work Is Ahead

by Dan Von Seggern

As we discussed in the last issue of Washington Water Watch, the State Legislature passed a bill (ESSB 6091) that was designed to “fix” the Hirst decision.  CELP is deeply concerned about the potential effects of this bill.

First, at least for the next few years, there will be no meaningful controls whatsoever on permit-exempt withdrawals in most of the state.  Most landowners will be able to get a building permit simply by paying a minimal fee, regardless of the effect on streamflows or other water right holders.  Once these new uses have been established, they will represent permanent withdrawals of water, regardless of whether they adversely affect the environment.  Second, and even worse, another part of the bill is clearly intended to overturn the Foster decision, which requires that water withdrawals be mitigated with water.   Foster is a very important control on the use of “out-of-kind” mitigation, which can result in dewatering streams and harm to fish.

The bill does set out processes that are intended to lead to plans (established by watershed planning groups or newly established watershed enhancement committees) for mitigation of well impacts, but its structure creates strong incentives for indefinite delays: any plan adopted would almost certainly be more restrictive than the current situation created by ESSB6091, so that there will be strong pressure to do nothing.

Along with these serious concerns, there is some reason for optimism.  The bill takes a “watershed enhancement” approach and calls for future mitigation plans to offset the impacts of wells on streamflows. As expressions of policy these are welcome statements.   It also provides funding for projects designed to offset the impacts of permit-exempt wells, and at least on paper requires that streamflows be enhanced.  However, as so frequently happens, the devil will be in the details, and the hard work is yet to come.  CELP will be working to ensure that the Department of Ecology’s actions, and those of the watershed enhancement committees, actually benefit streams.

Ecology has announced that it plans to hire additional staff to implement the streamflow enhancement goals of the law.  This is a welcome development.  It has also begun to issue statements offering guidance as to how the new provisions will be interpreted and applied.  How Ecology plans to accomplish the streamflow enhancement goals should become clearer as more guidance is issued.  Ecology will also be responsible for awarding funds to streamflow restoration and enhancement projects and plans to begin accepting proposals this summer.  Careful evaluation of these projects will be critical in order to ensure that real streamflow enhancement occurs.  The work of the legislative task force on out-of-kind mitigation also bears watching, as a “Foster fix” has an even greater potential to impair streamflows.

CELP is cautiously optimistic that a regulatory framework that protects streamflows, fish, wildlife, and other water users can be established.  However, we must be vigilant and carefully evaluate proposals for mitigation of water use, so that the goal of enhancing flows and protecting river/stream environments is actually met.


WA State Legislature Passes Flawed “Hirst Fix”

by Dan Von Seggern

Our state legislature began this year’s session by passing a bill to remove the 2016 Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (“Hirst”) decision’s protections for groundwater and streamflows. Hirst reaffirmed existing law and required that counties ensure water is both physically and legally available before granting building permits.   This common-sense rule provided a critical check on withdrawals of groundwater that affect streams and rivers, and harm fish habitat.  Unrestricted groundwater withdrawals can impair the rights of senior water holders, including users of existing wells who are now seeing their wells go dry.  Worse yet, the bill takes a step towards reversing the Foster v. Ecology decision, which requires that impacts to streams be mitigated with replacement water, rather than with non-water (“out-of-kind”) habitat restoration projects.

Concerned that having to show that water was actually available could slow development in rural areas, counties, the building industry, and property rights groups pressured the Legislature to find a “fix.” On January 18, the Legislature passed a bill (ESSB 6091) that allows counties to approve building permits that rely on permit-exempt wells.

  • In WRIAs where Ecology has adopted an instream flow rule that specifically addresses permit-exempt wells (for example, WRIA 18, the Dungeness River), compliance with the applicable rule is sufficient to show water availability for a building permit.
  • Where Ecology has adopted a rule that does not speak to permit-exempt wells, a plan to restore and enhance streamflows is to be generated. In WRIAs that created watershed plans under the 1998 Watershed Act, the bill requires that these plans be updated to include projects to “measure, protect, and enhance streamflows,”   and to offset impacts of permit-exempt wells.
  • If no watershed plan was previously developed, the bill directs formation of “watershed restoration and enhancement committees” composed of stakeholders. These committees are heavily weighted towards stakeholders who have an interest in developing water, rather than preserving the resource, and CELP is concerned that they would not have adequate incentives to truly restore and enhance the streamflows.
  • In watersheds where Ecology has not yet adopted an instream flow rule, an applicant need only show that water is physically present (in other words, there is no requirement to mitigate or compensate for water use).   This is the situation in about half the state’s watersheds, including some that are experiencing high growth pressures such as the Cowlitz River (WRIA 26).

ESSB 6091 stresses a “watershed restoration and enhancement” approach, rather than requiring that water use from permit-exempt wells be mitigated.  While the goal of protecting and enhancing streamflow is a worthy one, this bill has significant flaws and will not provide adequate protection for streams, fish, or people who rely on them.  Development is essentially unrestricted in most areas until the new plans are completed (2019 – 2021).  The damage to streams will likely be done before any regulations are established.

ESSB 6091 also undermines mitigation of future water use by authorizing “out-of-kind” mitigation projects (such as streambank restoration or addition of large woody debris to a river channel; by definition, such projects do not provide replacement water) to compensate for new water uses, rather than requiring replacement water to maintain streamflows.  CELP believes that out-of-kind projects will become the path of least resistance in compensating for water use, and streamflows will inevitably be impaired.  Even the best habitat is of little use if there is insufficient water in the stream.

CELP is especially disappointed that ESSB 6091 lacks any metering provision, or any other method to determine how much water is actually used. Without metering, compliance with the limits in RCW 90.44.050 or with any limits set by the respective watershed committees cannot be verified, and there will be no way to know whether the impact of permit-exempt wells is actually being “offset.”   Because quantities cannot be verified, water use under this scheme is in practice unlimited.  Simply relying on users not to exceed allowable limits is poor policy and could make much of the watershed protections plans meaningless.

ESSB 6091 requires Ecology to conduct a pilot study of “the overall feasibility” of metering groundwater withdrawals (including permit-exempt wells) in the Dungeness (WRIA 18) and Kittitas county (WRIA 39) areas.  But no pilot project is needed.  Ecology’s rules in these areas already require that new permit-exempt wells be metered, and metering has already proven feasible. Rather than directing Ecology to waste time and resources on these studies, a better approach would be to require metering on all new permit-exempt wells, so that the data needed to ensure that streamflow impacts are compensated for can be gathered.

Finally, ESSB 6091 establishes a legislative “task force” with the mission of identifying changes in law to effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 Foster v. Ecology decision.  Foster held that water use that impairs an instream flow or other senior water right must be mitigated by providing substitute water at an appropriate place and time.  This provided important protections for salmon, which depend on water being present in streams at the time it is needed for migration, spawning, and rearing.  The bill authorizes a list of pilot projects that appear intended to demonstrate out-of-time, out-of -place, or out-of-kind mitigation.  CELP is concerned that this provision is designed to reach a preordained conclusion that out-of-kind mitigation is acceptable, and to pave the way for its broader use.  The consequences to Washington’s rivers and the fish that depend on them may be disastrous.


Washington Water Watch: November Edition

In this issue, an article on recent victory in court on the Leavenworth Hatchery Clean Water Act Case, a story on CELP’s founding director, Rachael Osborn, being recognized by AWRA-WA with their award for Outstanding Contribution to Water Resources, a welcome to CELP’s newest staff member, Emma Kilkelly, information about our December CLE, and more.

Read the November edition of Washington Water Watch here.