OLYMPIA (May 5,2003)-A coalition of legislators, Indian tribes, environmental organizations and fishing groups objected this morning to the potential passage of water bills to be considered in the special legislative session slated for May 12.

In a press conference in Olympia, State Senator Karen Fraser (D-Olympia), Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank, Jr., Washington Environmental Council President Jay Manning and others said the bills serve the interests of big water users at the expense of the environment and everyone else in the state.

The coalition opposing the bills pointed out that commitments to protect stream flows were made years ago to protect fish and wildlife resources, but those promises have not been kept.

“That has not been done,” said Senator Fraser. “These bills work against that, and only serve to weaken the state’s water laws.”

Frank said the tribes have opposed the bills because they violate the principles of good stewardship, and violate treaty-protected rights. “State government should protect the rights of all citizens. Water must be protected for fish, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment. These bills degrade water and hurt everyone because they tap into water that must be reserved to protect these resources.”

“We all rely on rivers and streams for drinking water, fish and wildlife, recreation and to grow our food,” said Manning. “Yet, illegal, inefficient, and excessive use of this precious resource is so severe that in some areas our streams and rivers are drained dry.”

Industry and agriculture use over 80% of the water used in Washington. The spokespersons said the bills on tap for special session only make it easier for big water users to use more without protecting our natural resources or other water right holders.

The coalition said the Governor committed three years ago to reform our water laws to benefit people, farms and fish, and that four years ago he vetoed several municipal water bills that are very similar to those he now supports. Unfortunately, since then Governor Locke and the legislature have largely focused on more special deals for water users that only risk making the problems worse, the spokespersons said.

One of the primary bills in question is SB 5028/HB 1334, which would exempt water users from clean water laws. Under current law, everyone has to comply with water quality standards. By prohibiting actions to enforce water quality standards against big water irrigators and others, the bill would effectively exempt water users from compliance with these clean water protections.

Another bill being opposed is the “municipal water rights bill,” HB 1338/SB 5331, which would prioritize meeting future growth for decades over that of protecting our current natural resources and environment.

Another is the “replacement wells” bill, HB 1337/SB 5334, which would further jeopardize the water resource by exempting movement of the source of wells from the permit process.

“These bills propose to give away water we may not even have,” said Fraser. “They would recklessly undermine state, federal and private investments toward restoring the health of our watersheds.”

The spokespersons said enactment of the bills in question could have more significant detrimental impacts to instream resources than any new water law of the last 20 years.

“Nothing is more precious than water. Whether you’re a fish in a stream or a person who turns on the tap, you need clean, adequate water. It’s wrong for anybody to weaken laws and standards that ensure healthy supplies of clean water,” said Bill Arthur, Northwest Regional Director of the Sierra Club. “Time and again, the public has demonstrated an overwhelming support for protecting clean water. Public officials play at their peril when they hastily try to undermine clean water laws,” he said.

For more information, contact: Steve Robinson, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (360) 438-1180 or Tom Geiger, Washington Environmental Council (206) 622-8103