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Title: News Release: Governor needs to make up his mind regarding water
Author: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Date: February 13, 2003 | ID#: 030213
Category: Washington water law and policy
Keywords: Gary Locke, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Billy Frank, HB 1338, HB 1317, HB 1337, HB 1336, municipal water rights 

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News Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, (360) 438-1180

Governor Needs To Make Up His Mind Regarding Water

OLYMPIA, WA (2/13/03)-- "Governor Locke needs to make up his mind. Does he care about the environment of this state or doesn't he? Yesterday we heard him showcase his plan to 'further the health and well-being of Puget Sound' as he introduced his new pick to head the Puget Sound Action Team. Yet he has introduced water bills to this year's legislature compromising the quality and quantity of water resources here to accommodate continued growth," says Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

"These bills contain the same principles that Governor Locke, himself, vetoed in years past in the name of conservation," says Frank. "Which way does he want it?"

For years, water users have cried loudly that the state was not adequately processing water right transfers, changes, and new applications. As a result, the state invested additional resources and reprioritized their existing staff to expedite out-of-stream permitting over that of amending or establishing new instream rules, said Frank.

Now, these out-of-stream interests recognize that current law will not provide them with the unfettered and unqualified use of their existing water rights, certificates, or claims. Rather than filing for new permits that would require environmental or other protection, these same interests now want the legislature to amend their existing water rights to allow for non-permitted or reviewable transfers and changes. In addition, these interests are seeking expansions of their water rights to avoid constraints from junior water right holders or environmental protection, said Frank.

"Obviously, water management in this state is on a collision course, and the Governor's request legislation is not much better than the dozens of anti-environmental bills being introduced by some of the most extreme legislators," said Frank.

"In the process, the Governor has reneged on his commitment to advance all instream and out-of-stream interests on the same pace. Now he proposes legislation that he has vetoed in the past for good public policy reasons, said Frank. "We're referring to these bills as the water grab and hoarding bills of 2003," he said.

Many of the water bills in the legislature relate to the expansion of municipal water rights and codification of what is called the "growing communities doctrine." No other state has codified the "growing communities doctrine" as being proposed by the Governor.

"The fundamental problem is that the state proposes to prioritize the limited surface and ground water resources that we have left-to meet future population growth for the next 50 years-over the needs of our current instream resources and over securing water for existing junior appropriators," said Frank. He added that the state wants to grant new authority for municipal and domestic water suppliers to take more water to meet the growth of millions without protection of our existing instream resources or other third-parties.

"Enactment of these bills will have more significant detrimental impacts to our instream resources than any other law proposed in the last 20 years," said Frank.

The tribes oppose three of the Governor's four request bills: Senate Bill 5331 on municipal water rights (House Bill counterpart HB 1338); SB 5333 on Trust Water (HB 1317) and SB 5334 on Replacement Wells (HB 1337). Frank said tribes are willing to work with SB 5332 on Watershed Planning (HB1336).

"We're not against cities and counties getting the water they need. We just want the work to be done that needs to be done to protect fish and wildlife resources," said Frank.

"These bad policy bills are just a taste of the inappropriate water legislation being considered by the State Legislature today. Of 74 water bills identified to date, we are highly opposed to 39 of them," said Frank.

"We ask the Governor and the Legislature to take their obligations to protect the public trust more seriously, and to honor the treaties that enabled Washington to be a state in the first place," said Frank.

Tribes actually own the water, in conjunction with the state and federal governments. They also hold the most senior water right, according to Western Water Law and numerous court cases, and hold reserved treaty rights that protect instream water resources needed to sustain fish and wildlife populations, said Frank.