CELP works in many ways—including in the courts. We have recently put a lot of time into some important cases to protect Washington’s waters. Here is a quick update:
CELP, American Whitewater, Columbia River Bioregional Educational Project, and North Cascades Conservation Council v. Department of Ecology and Okanogan PUD: Enloe Dam Round 2: The appeal of Okanogan PUD’s water right
Last summer, CELP and its allies won an important victory for the Clean Water Act and instream flows in Washington State. The Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) required Ecology to do an aesthetic flow study and set aesthetic flows for Similkameen Falls if and when the Enloe hydroelectric project in Okanogan County becomes operational. However, shortly after the decision came down, Ecology issued a Report of Examination recommending that Okanogan PUD, which owns the project, be granted a permanent water right that incorporated the very minimum flows the PCHB had rejected. The Report gave a nod to the PCHB decision, stating that the flows should change after the fact if the aesthetic flow study demonstrated that higher flows were required. But it is far from clear whether this maneuver by Ecology is legal.
Water rights, once granted and perfected, last forever unless relinquished. And what is odd here is that the Legislature created a specific mechanism that fits perfectly here: the preliminary permit. The preliminary permit would allow the PUD to build the project, undertake the study, and then, and only then, would Ecology set the appropriate aesthetic flow for Enloe Dam.
Ecology’s ROE recommended a procedure that simply may not be legal. We had no choice but to protect the PCHB decision requiring aesthetic flows and to sue.
Andrea Rodgers Harris and Kristen Larsen are litigating the case (along with Suzanne Skinner). It should be determined in the next few months on summary judgment (so no trial will be required). We will keep you posted.
Sierra Club & CELP v. USEPA: PCB Clean Up Plan for the Spokane River
In 2011, CELP and the Sierra Club filed suit to compel EPA to create a clean-up plan for the Spokane River to rid it of PCBs. Federal court cases can take a long time. This month, Richard Smith of Smith and Lowney, our attorney, filed the last brief in our case. We contend that EPA has a duty to take over Ecology’s aborted clean-up process (called a Total Maximum Daily Load process) and create a pollution plan for the Spokane River. We are lucky to have the Spokane Tribe as an intervener in this case. The Tribe’s case asserts that the federal government is failing in its trust duties to protect the Spokane River, and the fish upon which the Tribe depend.
OWL and CELP v. Kennewick Hospital: Columbia River Water Right Appeal
The Columbia River is a heartbreaker. Back in 2006, the National Academy of Sciences clearly stated that no further water should come out of the river—any new water rights would further imperil the river’s seven species of endangered or threatened salmonids. The Department of Ecology conscientiously issued a moratorium on new water rights. That lasted until the Legislature effectively repealed it and overrode the minimum instream flow rules it had adopted for the Columbia.
Ecology then began issuing new water rights even though no science supported the agency’s actions. Indeed, climate change science makes it clear that over time that water shortages in the river will only become more severe.
Ecology issued a big, really big, new water right to Kennewick General Hospital in September, 2013. A water right to a hospital? Yes. The Hospital also owns land—it intends to sell the land with the water right to irrigate it to Easterday Farms (long time CELP friends will remember Easterday).
On behalf of the Okanagan Wilderness League, Rachael Osborn, Patrick Williams, and Dave Monthie filed an appeal to the PCHB of the Hospital’s water right decision for failing to make the permit contingent on instream flows, as well as improperly relying on “out of kind” mitigation (in other words mitigating a loss of water from the Columbia with money, and land or fish improvement projects on tributaries).
CELP has intervened in the PCHB case. We are lucky that Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice jumped into the case and is now lead counsel for both OWL and CELP. Once again the case looks like it will be decided without trial on summary judgment.
Sara Foster v. Yelm: Challenge to Out-of-kind Mitigation in a Permit
Dave Monthie, CELP Board Member extraordinaire, filed a great friend-of-the-court brief (or amicus) last week on behalf of CELP and the Carnegie Group in the Foster case, now pending in Thurston County Superior Court. This case challenges Ecology’s reliance on so-called “out of kind” mitigation to compensate for admitted damage to instream flows from new water rights. What does “out of kind” mean? Well… habitat improvements, money,…anything but real water droplets at the time and place needed to offset the projected impact to already nominal instream flows.
The PCHB upheld Ecology’s issuance of the water right. Foster appealed to Thurston County Superior Court. Just last week, the Court granted CELP and Carnegie’s request to submit their amicus brief. The appeal hearing is currently scheduled for May 9th.
We cannot begin to thank the dedicated attorneys (named above in bold) who work so hard for Washington’s waters.