Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, Dec. 15, 2012
Moreover, if the Wash. State Supreme Court rules in favor of the Swinomish, Skagit River Basin owners of about 5,700 buildable lots–on which at least 400 homeowners have already built homes–could lose access to their well water for residential use.
To understand the viewpoint of landowners/homeowners caught up in the contentious water issue over which they have no input, visit the Just Water Alliance website at http://justwateralliance.org.
Do the citizens of Anacortes want the City to support the Swinomish lawsuit against the the Dept. of Ecology that could result in at least 400 homeowners losing their well water for residential use, possibly their homes? For a history of Anacortes’ involvement with Swinomish lawsuits, see the legal section of the City of Anacortes website at http://www.cityofanacortes.org/Legal/WaterRightsSwinomish/index.asp.
County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit
By Kate Martin | Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 1:00 am
MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County commissioners say they will rejoin a 1996 water agreement if the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community drops its lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology.
The tribe’s lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. If the tribe is successful, it could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River basin losing access to well water if they drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.
The letter, sent Friday, is in response to those sent last week by Anacortes and the Swinomish. Those letters in turn were in response to a November letter by commissioners, which announced the county had left the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement, which outlined a historic water agreement in the valley.
Commissioners also asserted that they had left the agreement because the Swinomish and Anacortes broke that agreement by suing Ecology to invalidate a 2006 state rule amendment that allows more water for rural and agricultural users. The original rule amendment, from 2001, provided no new water at all for rural landowners or for agricultural uses, the county states.
The commissioners’ letter outlined a path to where the county could rejoin the agreement: “You can remedy your ongoing breach by dismissing your pending lawsuit. Until that happens, Skagit County is not a party to the 1996 MOA, and has no further obligations under the 1996 MOA.”
Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said he had not had a chance to read the letter, which was sent at 2 p.m. Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Sharon Dillon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Larry Wasserman, environmental services director for the tribe, had little to say about the commissioners’ response.
“The tribe doesn’t believe it is productive to continue to have these debates in the newspaper,” Wasserman said. “Our previous letter speaks for itself, as do the facts on our website. People can look there to find out what the real history has been.”
The commissioners’ letter also says the tribe and city’s ongoing lawsuit “completely undermines the stated purpose of the 1996 MOA” by seeking to eliminate all water for rural landowners and farmers.
The city and tribe both said in their letters that the county was using the same legal process for challenging Ecology’s rule when it sued the agency in 2003 as the tribe used to challenge the rule amendment in 2008.
Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen said it’s not the same.
Wesen said the 2003 disagreement the county had with Ecology involved the 2001 instream flow rule because that rule did not include any water for rural agriculture or residences requiring a well.
“What the tribe and Anacortes are saying, ‘We don’t agree with Ecology’s authority to make this change.’ If they don’t have authority to do that, then all exempt wells since 2001” are gone, Wesen said.
The Swinomish contend in their lawsuit that Ecology is using an overly broad definition of a narrowly defined exception to provide water in exceptional circumstances. The Swinomish lost an earlier round in the Thurston County Superior Court in 2010. The state Supreme Court’s ruling could be months from now.
“It’s complicated, but we’ll find out when the Supreme Court makes its ruling who is right,” Wesen said.
Wesen said the MOA and the instream flow rule don’t take into account the fact that water use changes over time. “To say this is the rule we have for 50 years and have no flexibility, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”