* 1996: The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Skagit Public Utility District, the city of Anacortes, Skagit County and several state agencies, including the Department of Ecology, struck a deal, called a memorandum of agreement, to secure water rights for the county’s two water purveyors. If the tribes would agree not to contest Anacortes’ and the PUD’s water right in court, the city and PUD would pay for a study that examined how much water was required for healthy salmon populations. That minimum water level, called an instream flow, is essentially a water right for salmon. It would later regulate how much water could be taken from the river and its tributaries without harming the fish or water quality.
* 2001: Ecology and the water purveyors followed up on the 1996 agreement by crafting the instream flow rule for the Skagit River, which used a scientific study to determine how much water fish need in order to thrive. However, the rule states that when streams have lower flows — which is typical in the summer and late fall — some water rights could be interrupted.
* 2003: Skagit County sued Ecology because the instream flow rule did not include a provision for new rural wells. Years of litigation and negotiation have followed, involving various parties, including the county, Ecology, the Swinomish tribe and the city of Anacortes.
* 2006: Skagit County and Ecology settled their differences with an amendment to the 2001 instream flow rule to allow for limited domestic well water withdrawals in creek basins throughout the valley. But the Swinomish contended that Ecology abused a provision called “overriding consideration of public interest” to provide new water to rural landowners.
* 2008: The Swinomish sued Ecology for implementing the rule amendment.
* 2010: Ecology won in Thurston County Superior Court, with the court ruling that the agency did not exceed its authority in granting the basin reservations.
* 2012: The tribe’s appeal was heard the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, Nov. 13. It could take the court several months to issue a ruling.
Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 1:00 am
Updated: 9:37 am, Wed Nov 14, 2012.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012 1:00 am.
Updated: 9:37 am.