OLYMPIA (June 24, 2003)– Governor Locke signed the highly controversial water bills quietly and without fanfare Friday. The bills, dubbed the “water grab and hoarding bills of 2003” by the tribal governments that co-own the water with the state and federal governments, send a clear message that the state has little regard for environmental health, says Billy Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“These are bad news bills,” said Frank. “We’ve said so all along. They’re bad for the environment and they’re bad for the state/tribal relationship.”

“Although many legislators, the governor and some key players in his administration have consistently failed to understand the impact of this legislation, they exact a heavy toll from fish and wildlife protection and the quality of life in this state,” said Frank. “It was clear during the legislative session that most legislators did not understand the bills they were voting on. Many even told us so. But we also received comments from many of them that they hope the tribes will sue the state for its inability to effectively protect the environment and manage natural resources due to a lack of political courage. That’s a sad state of affairs,” said Frank.

“We have tried hard to build a positive relationship with the state. We should work together, as a team, toward win-win solutions in natural resource management. Think of the Gardner Administration, during which the Centennial Accord was established, the Timber-Fish-Wildlife Agreement was developed and our co-management relationship was the inspiration of other states and countries. We even put together a comprehensive water management plan then that answered many of the problems that needlessly continue to plague the state today. That was an agreement that would have worked, as it did in its pilot project area of the Dungeness-Quilcene. But big business and big agri-business found a weak spot in the legislature that has enabled them to keep exacting a painful toll from the environment through over-exploitation. Our children will be forced to pay for their greedy ways,” said Frank.

“Will the tribes sue over this legislation? We might. But, then what? There are already court decisions the state is failing to listen to,” said Frank. “The state seems hell bent on a path to destroy the quality of life here in the Northwest, and it will apparently take citizen action, primarily at the ballot box, to change that,” said Frank.

One of the bills passed was SB 5028, which forbids the Department of Ecology from using water quality law to restrict water quantity takes. Although it increases maximum daily illegal water use penalties from $100 to $5,000, the fact is that DOE’s record on collecting fines is dismal. More importantly, the bill will lead to more pollution problems, coming hand-in-hand with reduced stream flows. Washington will now become just one of two states to give up this authority. The other state, Colorado, has been slapped by the federal government for its lack of protection of instream flows.

Also passed were HB 1336, a somewhat less egregious watershed planning bill, and HB 1338, the Municipal Water Bill. Supporters of this bill say it simply lets municipalities use existing water rights to meet future community growth needs, and that it offers some conservation incentives. Actually, HB 1338 is probably the worst bill for the environment the legislature has passed in two decades. It bumps junior water right holders, ranging from schools and churches to the agriculture community, so that very broadly-defined municipalities can get theirs for the next 50 years. “They’re prioritizing the needs of people who haven’t moved here yet over those of current users, and that’s unconstitutional,” said Frank.

“Obviously, water management in this state is on a collision course with the tribes and anyone else who cares about the environment. These are the water grab and hoarding bills of 2003,” he said.

Tribes actually co-own the water, with the state and federal governments. They also hold the most senior water right, according to Western Water Law and numerous court cases, and hold reserved treaty rights that protect instream water resources needed to sustain fish and wildlife populations.

For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, (360) 438-1180