DOE has authority, pollution board rules - "Pollution" includes removing water from a stream
Methow Valley, WA - The Department of Ecology was given a partial victory in its case against alleged wasteful
watering practices by the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) last week.
A decision by the Pollution Control Hearings Board found that the agency has authority to issue an order charging wasteful practices under Washington water law.
In December 2001, Ecology hit the MVID with a notice of violation charging that the district was out of compliance with the state water code and the Water Pollution Control Act by contributing to low flows in the Twisp and Methow rivers.
After deciding that the MVID’s response did not actually contest Ecology’s claims, the agency issued an administrative order limiting the irrigation district’s withdrawals from both rivers.
MVID cried foul, and claimed that Ecology’s order amounted to an adjudication of water rights and fell outside the agency’s scope of authority.
The PCHB’s decision Feb. 27 denied that claim.
"We conclude Ecology’s order does not adjudicate the priority of the MVID’s water rights," the board wrote in its decision, "but rather legitimately enforces the extent to which they may be lawfully used based on the agency’s tentative determination of the extent and validity of the MVID’s water rights."
The board stopped short of actually finding that the MVID was wasting water, reserving that issue for a hearing scheduled for May 4-6.
Meanwhile in Olympia, a bill sponsored by Rep. Cary Condotta that would narrow the definition of the word, "pollution," passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee.
"We’re extremely excited that this bill has come out of committee," said Condotta. "It essentially redefines the word ‘pollution’ so that simply removing water from a stream will not be considered pollution. It is very important to the folks in the Methow Valley, and probably to the whole state in the long run."
HB1534 states that exercise of any water right claim, permit or certificate granted under state law to withdraw or divert water would not constitute "pollution" under state water pollution control laws.
"My legislation would correct that misguided translation and define pollution in the traditional sense, giving it back its real meaning," said Condotta.
Ecology spokesperson Joy Redfield-Wilder said the bill would essentially "trump" the state’s water quality laws.
"It seems to state that if you have a water right you shouldn’t be subject to water quality laws, " she said. "It’s an important issue that needs to be debated."
HB 1534 now goes to the House Rules Committee for further consideration.
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