Constitutionality of water rights law upheld by state Supreme Court

Oct. 29, 2010
OLYMPIA, WA, Oct. 29, 2010 -- The Washington state Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Washington's Municipal Water Law (MWL), removing uncertainty over water right certificates issued as far back as the 1950s...

OLYMPIA, WA, Oct. 29, 2010 -- The Washington state Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Washington's Municipal Water Law (MWL), removing uncertainty over water right certificates issued as far back as the 1950s.

In a 9-0 decision in Lummi Indian Nation v. State, et al , the Supreme Court found that the MWL does not violate the separation of powers clause of the U.S. or state constitutions or the right to due process. Several Indian tribes, environmental groups and citizens sued Washington state in 2006 contending that several sections of the MWL are unconstitutional.

Under state water law, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) issues a certificate to use the water of the state when the water is appropriated and put to a beneficial use like a household water supply or irrigation. However, before 1998, municipalities, public utility districts and other water system providers were treated differently when the state issued water right certificates. The state issued water right permits and certificates to those providers based on needs such as accommodating future population growth, and having the "pumps and pipes" capacity to put the water to use.

The MWL was enacted by the Washington's Legislature in 2003 to provide clarity on the nature of the pre-1998 water certificates and flexibility to municipal water suppliers in exercising their water rights. At the same time, the MWL requires those suppliers to engage in water conservation measures.

Under the law, utilities must use water efficiently. The state Department of Health includes water use efficiency requirements in its water system planning process. Utilities must demonstrate they have the water rights and the capacity to meet the needs of existing and future customers.

For more information on the Municipal Water Law and the full text of the state Supreme Court decision, go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/rights/muni_wtr.html

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