Ag and Rural Caucus Self-Call To Meeting, June 2022
Water Right Adjudication: Yakima and Nooksack 06:30 PM 23 June, 2022 Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81379922162?pwd=MFZybDdkdk5PcGxtMk9odmxSZEFadz09 Meeting ID: 813 7992 2162 Passcode: 331894
Water Rights Adjudication: Theory, Yakima Experience, and the Nooksack Anticipation
Mary Verner, theory – Department of Ecology
Tom Ring, veteran of Yakima adjudication
William Clarke, anticipation, Whatcom County, Ag Water Board
“There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”
The Ag and Rural Caucus looks for the cracks. We look for the light. We try to go behind the headlines and easy snap phrases to learn how policy really works. And we try to find constructive solutions in the nuances. We try to understand the interests around the table and the details of the issue at hand. Using knowledge and sensitivity we try to lever open the cracks to make something work. Wolf-cattle management in Ferry and Stevens Counties, the Lower Snake River dams, and most water issues are examples of where we have fallen short, but we keep trying.
I am reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyric by a question that came up in our coordination meeting last week. One of our guests asked how we would respond to more technical information. I responded that, while in no way are we experts in water law, we would welcome the opportunity to learn. Had I been more alert I would have more vigorously welcomed insight into how professionals look for the cracks to drive solutions. Water rights adjudication is a rich example of looking for the cracks. In the case of the Yakima River Basin adjudication, it took forty years to find the cracks. Time – forty years – obviously is one way of resolving problems but it is expensive for both the public and water users. Can Ecology and water-rights advocates across the state learn from episode to episode to reduce the decision-making costs, or is each adjudication sui generis, unique?
We are using a “compare and contrast” format for Thursday’s meeting. Mary Verner heads up Ecology’s Water Resources Program, Bill Clarke is an attorney and lobbyist specializing in water and natural resources, and Tom Ring has been with the Yakama Nation’s Water Resource Program and is a veteran of Yakima Basin water issues.
Mary and Bill will have different takes on the adjudication enterprise for the Nooksack and Tom will provide balancing commentary to keep us moving.
This, at least, the plan. Join us. And invite your friends to come in. Please encourage anyone in your circles who might be interested. As always, our meeting are open to everyone.
20 June 2022
A Scarce Resource
How do you divvy up a scarce resource? Like water. There are laws, rules and regulations, and values. Values are ideas like there should be water for endangered salmon, or water to grow food for people, or that water is fundamental to life and should be conserved as a public resource. Then, of course, we have values like having a green lawn in August and a clean car whenever. Not all values are created equal.
Water rights adjudication is application of Washington State Law and Ecology rules. Where do values come in? Clearly, how we value water has changed in the last hundred years. The legislature keeps up with some of this change and adds RCW’s with revised instructions for Ecology. So, is water right adjudication just a mechanical application of law or is there room to grow to accommodate changing values? And by whose authority?
Please do join us on the 23rd. We will talk about water, naturally, but we will also be talking about the kind of society we choose for our grandchildren. We can talk about water as a metaphor for the political choices we make about our collective life. And we can talk about water as the fundament for jobs, families and communities, and not just east of the Cascade crest.
Don 13 June 2022
Lost Your Title?
Ever settle a parent’s estate? Maybe not all the deeds and titles were filed quite where you thought. Maybe you ended up filing a lost title request with the Department of Licensing so you could sell Mom’s old Buick?
This is a little like a water adjudication. The Buick is from 2003 but the estate’s water right dates back to 1893. This is what keeps irrigators in Whatcom County up at night. They are in the very first stage of a comprehensive water right adjudication and farmers are wringing their hands about how to document their great-grandparents’ claim to use water for crops in the late summer when the rains give out. (I can see our friends in Othello shaking their heads worrying about short August rains but the Nooksack does not have Grand Coulee Dam upstream.)
On the 23rd we will take up water right adjudication. Mary Verner from Ecology with give us the theory of water right adjudication, Tom Ring from the Yakima Valley will talk about how the forty-year Yakima Basin process played out, and Bill Clarke from Whatcom County can share what the process looks like as it is just beginning.
7 June 2022
Water Rights: The Fundamentals
Let’s start at the beginning. Who has rights to use public waters and how did they get them? This is the business of water right adjudication. And the Department of Ecology, working for the state, is boss. Except that the state is a later comer to claiming jurisdiction, about a hundred years. And except that only the courts can really adjudicate water rights.
Confused? Aside from one-on-one adjudications, there has been only one general basin adjudication, the Yakima. It took forty years. It wrapped up in 2019. It is known by its court title: Ecology v Acquella.
Next up is the Nooksack (WRIA-01). Are landowners in Whatcom County looking forward to forty years of litigation?
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