The House Capital Budget committee will have a work session on “Potential impact of United States of America v. State of Washington (Culvert Case) on the capital budget” on Friday April 12. The session will be part of a meeting that starts at 8 a.m. in House Hearing Room B in the John L. O’Brien Building.
Agenda items will be posted here when they are available.
The Washington State Supreme on Thursday unanimously upheld changes the Legislature made to state water law in 2003 – changes that environmentalists fear will encourage sprawl and water speculation.
The changes included characterizing some developments as municipalities – and allowing them to keep the rights to as much water as their system can handle, even if they haven’t historically used that water.
Several American Indian tribes, individuals and environmental groups challenged the changes. They said the Legislature improperly overruled a prior Supreme Court decision and violated the due process rights of people who could lose access to water under the changes.
The justices said Thursday the changes were, on their face, constitutional but suggested they would entertain challenges later on if people claimed to be specifically harmed.
The state Department of Ecology posted a press release on the decision here.
The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that key provisions of the Municipal Water Law (MWL) are facially constitutional.1 The ruling affects water rights across Washington State, upholding the flexibility and certainty that the MWL provides to purveyors, municipalities, and other “municipal water suppliers.” However, the Court stressed that the ruling is limited to the “facial constitutional challenges” that were before the Court, leaving room for consideration of similar claims in the future that may be advanced under “as applied” challenges.
The Lummi Nation, Makah Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Tulalip Tribes, Squaxin Island Tribe and Suquamish Tribe, along with several other individuals, fish and environmental groups challenged the 2003 Muncipal Water Law.
The case, considered by some experts the most important water-rights litigation in Washington in two decades, is likely headed to the state Supreme Court. It was closely watched by environmentalists and tribes, who claimed the 2003 law retroactively expanded rights to pump water far beyond what was justified — and is likely to steal enough water from streams to hurt salmon and other creatures.
“It gave away millions of gallons of water a day to municipalities without even having to consider the impact of that on people who already had rights to water in that area,” said Tom Geiger of the Washington Environmental Council, one of the groups involved.
Tribal interests also claimed victory, despite the mixed ruling, because under the current system, “paper water rights” claimed long ago but not yet used eventually could result in cutting water supplies to people who live here now.