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Landowners concerned over new Ecology river rule

The Washington Department of Ecology is developing an instream flow rule to protect water in the Spokane River. There's supposed to be little impact to agriculture, according to the department, but local landowners are concerned the new rule will constitute a taking of private property without compensation.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on March 19, 2014 9:23AM

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s proposed rule to protect instream flows in the Spokane River has landowners concerned about potential takings of property without compensation.

The department will meet with the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights at 7 p.m. March 27 at the Otis Orchards Library, 22324 E. Wellesley Ave., in Otis Orchards, Wash., about 20 miles east of Spokane.

Ecology is developing an instream flow rule to protect water in streams for “instream resources,” including fish, wildlife, recreational uses, hydropower and wastewater management in the Spokane River.

An instream flow rule gives the river a water right similar to those given to individuals, farms and municipalities, according to the department.

The proposed rule area for the Spokane River instream flow rule applies to the main stem of the Spokane River, and Spokane County within the boundary of the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, said Brook Beeler, spokesperson for Ecology in Spokane.

Instream flows have been set in 26 watersheds and the main stem of the Columbia River, and are being developed in several others, Beeler said.

Once an instream flow is set, Ecology uses the rule as a regulatory flow threshold to determine whether there is water to withdraw for new uses.

Instream flow rules help ensure adequate water supplies for farmers, fish and people by protecting minimum flows in rivers and streams throughout the year, Beeler said.

“Protecting minimum flows helps protect existing water rights,” she said. “Instream flow rules create water rights for streams but they are not senior to water rights held by long-established agriculture or any other user.”

The proposed rule area for the Spokane River is expected to have little impact on agriculture, Beeler said.

But local agriculture representatives are concerned about possible impacts for landowners.

“They intend to insert rules that will restrict use of private property with no compensation,” said Hal Meenach, president of the Spokane County Farm Bureau. “In any farmer’s mind, that is a taking.”

Meenach said regulations for buffers, which he said is the biggest issue, are in flux among Ecology, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, USDA and the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

“(They) have not even decided what (the regulations) are,” he said. “They are still in rule making phases, which they always have been.”




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