Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Attorney General Rob McKenna announces appeal of Water Rights Decision

OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced the state will appeal a recent King County Superior Court ruling that suggests three sections of the Municipal Water law are invalid.

“We respectfully disagree with the Superior Court’s decision to strike down three of the eight challenged sections of the Municipal Water Law,” McKenna said. “We believe that the law as crafted by the Legislature is a constitutionally-sound way to protect our growing water needs while protecting the environment. I’m confident that our view will ultimately prevail in court.”

The Municipal Water Law was enacted in 2003 to protect water service for Washington state citizens. It requires water systems to plan for the future and use water efficiently. The law has been challenged by some Washington tribes and environmental groups.

On June 11, 2008, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers ruled that three sections of the Municipal Water Law were invalid, suggesting they violate the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government. Judge Rogers said the Legislature had overstepped its authority by in effect setting aside an earlier state Supreme Court ruling on water rights.

Notice of appeal has been filed via mail to the state Supreme Court. The Court may choose to hear the case or send it to the Court of Appeals.

The Washington State Department of Health issued the following statement to non-municipal water providers: (I'm on a mailing list for Group A/Group B Water Associations who provide water service to farms, dairies, residences and businesses across Whatcom County and the State of Washington).

As you may already be aware, on June 11, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers struck three sections of the Municipal Water Law. One section concerns water rights, and the others provide definitions of the terms “municipal water supplier” and “municipal water supply purposes.”

On July 7, the Office of the Attorney General filed a notice of appeal on behalf of the Governor and our agencies to the state Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling. The issues are complex, as you know, and the appeal process will take time to resolve.

In the meantime, we wanted to share with you how the Departments of Health and Ecology will do business until the appeal is resolved.

Because the ruling immediately affects the administration of water rights by Ecology and the oversight of public water systems by Health, the agencies are developing interim policies for staff to follow.

Until final court action occurs, we will not change any reviews and decisions made between the time the Municipal Water Law was enacted in 2003 and June 11, 2008, when the judge announced his ruling.

Given the current uncertainties, our goal is to minimize inconvenience to the public and provide clear guidance to water suppliers.

We’ll keep you informed as the case progresses. Please let us know if you have questions and concerns.

Best regards,
Denise Clifford Director, Office of Drinking Water Department of Health

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