The 20 member tribes of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission support the Legislature’s decision not to hastily overturn the state Supreme Court decision in Whatcom County v. Hirst. Hirst is good law. It simply requires local governments to ensure there is enough water for new development before they authorize a building permit. In other words, it forces us to balance our checkbook before we make a purchase.

“We don’t need to ‘fix’ Hirst. We need to protect the senior water rights of tribes, municipalities, farmers, and the environment by helping local government to implement the court’s decision,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the NWIFC. “But that is going to take time. Water management is a complex issue. Important water policy decisions should not be made under the pressure of budget negotiations.”

For years, tribes and others have pointed out that the state’s water policies allowed permit-exempt wells to take water without understanding impacts to streamflows and senior water rights.

“If the state Legislature wants to ‘fix’ water policy, then it should fix the exemptions that continue to allow the drilling of wells without first determining if water is both legally and physically available,” Loomis said. “Water is a finite resource. If we fail to protect it, we fail in our responsibility to future generations who are counting on us for the water they will need to survive.”

Tribes continue to be open to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to develop approaches that will protect water for future generations, Loomis said.