A handful of real estate, building and farm organizations are petitioning the state Department of Ecology to repeal or change a rule that has limited rural wells and left 5,700 parcels in the Skagit Basin with no legal access to water.

Eight groups signed onto a petition filed with Ecology on Thursday, asking the department to repeal the 2001 instream flow rule that has been the center of lawsuits and controversy between Skagit County, Ecology, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Upper Skagit Tribe and rural residents since even before its inception.

“We are asking that Ecology repeal the Skagit Basin rule and replace it with a rule that balances instream and out-of-stream water needs, as required by law,” wrote attorney Bill Clarke in the petition.

The petition’s signers include the Washington REALTORS, the Building Industry Association of Washington, the North Puget Sound Association of REALTORS, the Skagit-Island County Building Association, the Snohomish-Camano Association of REALTORS, Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Just Water Alliance.

At an October forum in Mount Vernon, Ecology’s Water Resources Program Manager Tom Loranger told a packed Lincoln Theater that his agency would not repeal the rule, as doing so would only lead to another lawsuit by the Swinomish Tribe.

The Swinomish Tribe sued Ecology in 2008 for an amendment to the 2001 rule that allowed a limited number of new wells in each subbasin. The state Supreme Court ruled for the tribe in late 2013, saying Ecology had overstepped its authority in amending the rule.

Jerry Liszak, a hydrogeologist with Ecology’s Water Resources Program, said he doubted the petition would influence Ecology to repeal the rule.

“We’ve been re-evaluating all those studies (that led to the rule) over the last few months, because people were curious about whether there was real science involved,” Liszak said. “I think it was done right.”

The petition charges that, while Ecology and others have tried for the last 13 years to “fix” the rule, it cannot be fixed.

Clarke goes on in the petition to argue that the rule violates not only the 1996 memorandum of understanding that began the process toward a rule, but also state water code.

This is a developing story.

— Reporter Daniel DeMay: 360-416-2148, ddemay@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Daniel_SVH, Facebook.com/byDanielDeMay

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