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View Nick Oliver's blog posts
11 April 2012, 2:46 PM
Swinomish tribe fights against misguided scheme
Skagit River (USGS)

Washington state’s Swinomish tribe faces a water rights battle in the Skagit River basin, the likes of which we have seen before. It’s reminiscent of the dispute that broke out around a decade ago in the Klamath River basin in California and Oregon. That dispute led to a fish kill of about 70,000 salmon after federal intervention severely reduced water flows in the Klamath and its tributaries.

The Swinomish tribe’s fight, however, is uniquely theirs. The tribe is currently arguing before the Washington State Court of Appeals that the Washington Department of Ecology acted illegally in exercising a rarely invoked “overriding consideration of public interest” (OCPI) state water law loophole.

Using OCPI, the Department of Ecology could designate large quantities of water from the Skagit River and its tributaries for domestic, municipal, commercial, industrial, agricultural and livestock watering uses despite the fact that the river consistently fails to meet the basic flow requirements to sustain its health. This broadening and misuse of OCPI is also the topic of a recent amicus brief filed in support of the Swinomish tribe jointly by Earthjustice and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

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