Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to State's Municipal Water Law

Media Advisory for Monday, January 11, 2010
For additional information:  Rachael Paschal Osborn (director, CELP)
509.954-5641 (mobile), rosborn@celp.org

   Supreme Court to hear challenge to state's municipal water law
Overpumping threatens Washington rivers, drinking-water aquifers

OLYMPIA – On Tuesday, January 12, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a landmark lawsuit challenging municipal water rights.  The plaintiffs include individual water right holders who claim injury to their water rights as a result of the law, conservation groups, and Indian Tribes.

On September 1, 2006, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, Puget Sound Harvesters and several individuals filed a legal challenge to the Municipal Water Law enacted in 2003.  That law, also known as HB-1338,  allows municipalities to access large quantities of water based on paper water rights regardless of impacts on Washington’s rivers, aquifers,  and existing water users.

In December 2006 six western Washington tribes filed a similar suit and the two cases were consolidated.  In June 2008 a state judge struck down key parts of the challenged law, and the ruling was appealed to the State Supreme Court.

The Municipal Water Law is an important case. If the Supreme Court upholds the 2003 law, it will allow existing water uses to expand into paper water rights with devastating impacts on already overappropriated rivers and aquifers.  If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, water resource managers and public officials must rethink how water is allocated to meet existing out-of-stream and instream uses as well as future water needs.

The Municipal Water Law appeal pending under the title Lummi Indian Nation, et al. v. State of Washington, et al. will be heard on January 12 during the Supreme Court's morning session (Case No 2-81809-6). Arguments are expected to be taped and broadcast by TVW.  CELP and its co-plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Janette Bremmer and Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice.

Defendants are State of Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire, Washington Dept. of Ecology, Director of Ecology Ted Sturdevant, Washington Dept. of Health, and Sec. of Health Mary Selecky.  Intervenors are Washington Water Utilities Council (representing water purveyors statewide), Cascade Water Alliance, and Washington State University.