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WA Supreme Court Turns Spigot in Water Rights Battle

January 12, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. - It's conservation, fishing and tribal groups against real estate developers today, as the Washington Supreme Court hears arguments about a water rights law passed by the legislature seven years ago. Environmental groups say the 2003 Municipal Water Law is unconstitutional, giving some cities and developers access to more water than they need or use.

The groups' attorney, Janette Brimmer with Earthjustice, says it allows for more sprawl and speculation.

"That's contrary to Washington law, which basically says you've got to put it to beneficial use, you have to do so with due diligence. You can't just sit on water rights and save them for your own benefit, and maybe try to sell them at a higher price later. That's the kind of thing that can happen."

Brimmer says the legislature interfered with some existing water rights when it passed the law, which has affected streamflow, endangered salmon and other water users.

"It's pretty clear there's not enough water resources to go around and that makes it even more important that we manage what we have carefully and sustainably."

The developers and the State Department of Ecology contend that cities and builders have the right to plan for excess capacity and growth. Both sides agree that the case is critical to future decisions about water use in the state, and that the state Supreme Court is the right place to make the call.

Case will be heard at 9:30 a.m. today at the State Supreme Court Bldg., 415 12th Ave. S.W. in Olympia.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA