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Title: Letter from King County to Legislators
Author: Ron Sims
Date: May 5, 2003 | ID#: 030505
Category: Water Law and Policy
Keywords: 5028, 1337, 1338, fish recovery, watershed planning 

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May 5, 2003

The Honorable Bob Morton
Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee
Washington State Senate
Olympia, WA 98504
The Honorable Jim Honeyford
Water Subcommittee of Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee
Washington State Senate
Olympia, WA 98504
The Honorable Kelli Linville, Chair
Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee
Washington State House of Representatives
Olympia, WA 98504

Re: Pending Water Legislation

Dear Senator/Representative:

I am writing to express concerns about the water legislation being considered by the Legislature, and the potential unfavorable outcomes of this legislation. I am referring principally to the current versions of Senate Bill 5028, House Bill 1337, and House Bill 1338.

A year ago, the Legislature and the Governor had committed, through a collective process, to develop and advance legislation that would simultaneously and comprehensively address both instream flow needs for fish and out of stream uses for agriculture, economic development and population growth. One year later, this vision of a comprehensive and integrated state approach has been virtually abandoned in favor of ad hoc and piecemeal changes to the law that will make it easier to take water out of streams without adequate protection of flows necessary for fish and their habitat. While these bills may have some individual features that are useful, particularly to ensure adequate supplies to meet out of stream needs, they are uneven and incomplete. King County has consistently opposed water proposals that omit support for fish recovery and the necessary habitat conditions, and questions the wisdom of doing so now when watershed-based recovery plans are moving toward completion and implementation.

Also unclear is whether the State is fully committed to the use of watershed planning and related processes in order to develop collective management approaches to water resources. Despite the State's investment over the past five years of more than $20 million in watershed planning, references to watershed planning in the pending water legislation appear to be awkwardly grafted on to the bills' basic provisions, where such connections are made at all. The links to other existing processes&emdash;such as land use planning and water system planning&emdash;are vague, inconsistent, and incomplete. Within the Central Puget Sound, a major regional water management process has been initiated, with the parties agreeing that no new state authorities are needed in order to make progress toward achieving instream and out of stream objectives. Whether this regional process would be supported by this legislation is debatable. In short, under these bills, the State's approach to water management is becoming murkier, and progress on collaborative solutions is becoming less likely.

It is apparent to me that this legislation is likely to increase conflict over the State's use and management of water. As you know, these bills have increased the level of antagonism between the state and Indian Tribes, who legitimately feel that these bills neither recognize their rights nor protect their interests. The almost unavoidable result will be increased litigation by the Tribes, and reduced participation in collective processes such as watershed planning. This is not the right way to manage the State's waters. I believe that the Governor shares this point of view, but has been unable to find a path through which productive discussions with the Tribes can occur.

The Legislature and the Governor have agreed, with little public debate, to make major changes to the State's water quality laws in SB 5028 as a precondition to passage of the other water bills. The state's concessions in SB 5028 require thoughtful consideration of whether the remaining water legislation will actually achieve commensurate benefits to justify this package deal. I recognize that at this point in the legislative process, making changes to these bills would be difficult. However, not to change them would be tantamount to inviting an even more contentious environment for water management than we currently have. That should not be an outcome we intentionally pursue.

Accordingly, I request that you do the following with regard to this year's legislation:

(1) Defer consideration until the Governor and the Tribes have had a full opportunity to discuss constructive engagement on water issues, as the Governor requested in his April 27 letter to the Tribes;

(2) If you choose to enact the legislation, attach delayed effective dates for those provisions&emdash;most notably the provisions related to the use of "inchoate" water rights&emdash;that have the most potential to adversely instream flows and fish recovery planning, or attach "sunsets" to their provisions in order to allow for future review; and

(3) Agree upon an agenda for water legislation in 2004 that will focus on instream flows, and address other out of stream water issues that the 2003 session has not (e.g., exempt wells, small failing systems, development of alternative sources of water).

The waters of the state belong to the people of the state. In order to assure that this resource is preserved for future generations of people in this state, we must move prudently and deliberately through a process that respects the views and concerns of all our citizens.

Thank you for your consideration.



Ron Sims
King County Executive
Governor Gary Locke
Speaker of the House Frank Chopp
House Republican Leader Cathy McMorris
Senate Majority Leader Jim West
Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown
Department of Natural Resources Director Pam Bissonnette