Naiads

Water: law/policy/politics/ethics/art/science

Washington State Proposes “Water Right” for the Spokane River

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Spokane River at Low Flow

As reported in a previous post, the Washington Department of Ecology commenced formal rulemaking to create an instream flow rule for the Spokane River.  Public comments are needed by November 7th, and a public workshop and hearing will be held on October 22nd.

As with many of the Department of Ecology’s efforts, the Spokane River rule is both good news and bad news.   Instream flow rules create a “water right for the river” that prevents allocation of future water rights that harm streamflows.   It is important and necessary that Washington state create such a water right for the Spokane River.

But Ecology has low-balled the proposed instream flow numbers, proposing to protect no more than 850 cfs below Monroe St. dam in summer months.   This proposal fails to give the Spokane River the real protections that it needs.

There are several issues around the numbers Ecology has picked.  First, these flows (which change with the seasons) are not sufficiently protective of the important redband trout fish that live in the river.   Ecology and the Dept of Fish & Wildlife have offered some excuses along the lines of “fish need less water.”  Don’t believe it.

These flows also fail to recognize the Spokane River’s popularity as a recreational resources for boaters.   Ecology engaged in zero research or outreach as to what kind of flows boaters and paddlers need.

Second, Washington and Idaho are slowly building toward an interstate dispute over how much water each state is entitled to use (both instream and out of stream).  By picking low numbers, Ecology is giving away the barn, the horses, the tractors, and the hay.   It is not clear why our state public servants feel they have the authority to make such a giveaway.  Who’s in charge here?  This is an important interstate sovereignty issue that has received no attention whatsoever from Governor Inslee’s office.

Finally, Ecology’s instream flow scientists recently reported on the methods they use to establish instream flow numbers.  The bottom line – in all other watersheds in Washington, Ecology is using very conservative numbers that protect flows in rivers nine years out of ten.   Not the Spokane though, where the flows give 50% or less protection.   Why, particularly given the interstate issues, is the Spokane singled out for LESS protection than other rivers around the state?

Citizens who care about the Spokane River need to get involved.  Keep an eye on this blog and www.celp.org for more information about how to comment and act to protect the Spokane River.

 

 

 

 

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Author: naiads

Opinionated public interest water lawyer

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