Skagit County Suggests Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Dismisses Its [Water]Lawsuit

Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, Dec. 15, 2012

Please find below an article in the Skagit Valley Herald that is entitled, County suggests Swinomish dismiss its lawsuit. The Swinomish lawsuit (supported by the City of Anacortes without citizen input), if successful, could lead to all rural and agricultural landowners in the Skagit River Basin losing access to well water if they had drilled their well in 2001 or after, Ecology officials have said.

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.

The link of Skagit County’s letter of Dec. 14, 2012, to Chairman Brian Cladoosby and the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is located at Letter to Swinomish & Anacortes on Dec. 14, 2012.   The link contains the letter’s three supporting documents.

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.

My opinion is that the City of Anacortes’ nonsupport of a compromise regarding the water issue while it promotes the sale of five million gallons of water per day for Tethys Enterprises’ proposed bottling plant makes Anacortes a lousy neighbor. Tethys would be the largest bottling plant in North America.

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.”

WIN! Big step for the Right to Water in Mexico!

Mexico City-based Blue Planet Project organizer Claudia Campero Arena writes:

Mexico’s chamber of deputies

Last Thursday (April 28), the water movement in Mexico had an important victory. The federal chamber of deputies approved an initiative to recognize the right to water and to a healthy environment in the Mexican Constitution!

For several years, particularly since 2006, many Mexican organizations and citizens have demanded the recognition of the human right to water in our Constitution. The Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA) among other organizations started a campaign with this purpose in the first worldwide celebration of Blue October in 2006. At this time there were several initiatives in Congress to recognize this right, but there were no clear signs that things could move forward.

Citizens around the country are concerned about water: having access to safe and affordable water is a matter of life and life quality. The official figure, used by the government, of the percentage of people with access to water – “91.5% of the population has access to piped water” – hides inequalities. Not only do 8.5% lack access to piped water, within this 91.5% figure, but the government counts people that have access to piped water through public taps or neighbors and need to carry it back home. The fact is that a bit less than 70% of the population has in-house tap water. Moreover, of the houses that have piped water only 73% have water continuously, 15% have water every other day and the rest have it, maybe, once a week or once every two weeks . These numbers are only about physical access, yet we also need to talk about quality and affordability which are also key elements. To the question: ‘Would you drink a glass of tap water in Mexico?’ Most would answer no, and there is reason in this answer.

The approved initiative still needs to go through the Senate; and then more than half of the state legislatures need to pass it to become part of our Constitution. This process could take months, maybe years. However, the fact that it passed through the chamber of deputies is a huge step. The debate to pass it through considered international law specifically the General Comment 15 and last year’s General Assembly Resolution.

The wording that should be included in the forth article of the Constitution states every person has the right to a healthy environment, such a right will be guaranteed by the State, and harm to the environment will mean responsibility to those who provoke it. Every person has the right to access, use and sanitation of water for personal and domestic use in sufficient quantity, quality, acceptability and affordability. The State will guarantee this right and determine the base for equity and sustainability with the participation of all government levels and citizen participation.

This is a simple proposal, but it includes the key elements of sufficient quantity, quality and affordability. We will be working hard to push through this initiative to have the human right to water and to a healthy environment recognized in the Mexican Constitution!

[1] Alatorre, Adriana “Carece de agua 30% de viviendas” Reforma, March 20, 2011.