Ecology Issues Rural Water Supply Strategy Report

Since the water availability crisis in the Skagit basin erupted after the Supreme Court’s decision in Swinomish v. Ecology, Ecology held several workgroup meetings with tribal representatives and other stakeholders to develop and assess potential solutions to the agency’s challenges with instream flow regulations and water availability. Ecology issued its report on this effort in November 2014, entitled “FINDING RURAL DOMESTIC WATER SOLUTIONS WHILE PROTECTING INSTREAM RESOURCES.”

The report summarizes stakeholder suggestions and comments on potential solutions involving existing statutory authority that range from establishing mitigation water banks, use of cisterns, broadening mitigation options, considering the full hydrologic cycle, and relying on better integration of land use planning. It also summarizes stakeholders discussions about options that would require new statutory authority, including clarification of Ecology’s use of OCPI, broadening mitigation options for impacts to instream flows and closed streams, giving domestic water use a statutory priority over other uses, and authorizing rules that would define impairment of instream flows and mitigation qualitatively rather than protecting flows numerically. The latter approach was suggested by the owner of this blog, and would focus more on habitat quality instead of the specific instream flow numbers. This approach could include a consultation process with Tribes, and local, state and federal fishery managers to determine impairment and mitigation, or could be tied to watershed planning to develop
standards basin-by-basin.

The report states that no consensus was reached among stakeholders about the best approach to protect instream flows while providing water for future rural domestic uses. Less support was voiced for modifying “OCPI” authority or creating a domestic water use priority, and more support was expressed for broadening mitigation options.

Ecology’s analysis is that all the options involving existing statutory authority have limitations that would challenge successful adoption of a new or amended instream flow rule in Washington State. The report opines that discussions about defining impairment in statute could lead to potential solutions, and encourages continued stakeholder discussions. Ecology staff pledges to support ongoing discussions about solutions, but the agency was not able to meet the administrative timelines for legislative proposals for the 2015 legislative session. Those interested in learning more or participating in stakeholder discussions should visit Ecology’s website at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/wrac/rwss-leg.html. The next stakeholder meeting is scheduled for January 5, 2014.

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