Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Washington water law protects your water resources

Did you know today marks the 100th anniversary of Washington’s first water law, the foundation for how we manage our water resources?

That's right! On June 6, 1917, the newly adopted Washington Water Code established “prior appropriation” as the means for establishing rights to surface water – rivers, streams, springs, or lakes. This means that anyone applying for and receiving a water right first has priority over those applying later. This tenet of water law is known as “first in time, first in right.”

The new law recognized that water is essential for life but not an unlimited resource. No one owns our water resources. They are held in common by the citizens of Washington and under the prior appropriation doctrine, you must obtain a water right to use the waters of the state. And, importantly, new water users cannot impair (which is a legal term meaning to “cause harm”) the water rights of others who already have water rights.

Since 1917 the water code has governed the work of Washington state to ensure that adequate water supplies are available now and into the future for our homes, farms, industries and natural environment.

Other state agencies managed our water until the Legislature gave the assignment to the Water Resources Program when it created the Department of Ecology in 1970. But much has changed in water management since 1917. Over the past 100 years, water law has evolved because of court decisions related to conflicts between water users, the role of tribal treaty rights, and environmental concerns that have increased protection for important fishery resources and species threatened with extinction.

Commemorating the anniversary

We’re using this centennial to invite all Washingtonians to learn more about water law and the importance of protecting our water resources.

Our water law is complex. To help people better understand our state’s water law and what it may mean to them, we are developing a four-part video series. You can watch the first one, about the history of water law, on our 100 Years of Water Law webpage.

The other videos will address where water comes from, how it is managed, and the implications of climate change. We will use our website and other social media about the past, present, and future of water management in our state.

Join us in our recognition of this anniversary. Visit our webpage and stay tuned for more!

By Barbara Brooks, Water Resources Program


thommymac said...

I would be curious as to the original proponents implementing the legislation.
The current affairs of the rift between the Department of Ecology protocol and
the Department of Natural Resources land use allowances is grave in the protection of water and ecological resources. Granted the precious outcome of agency is continued implementation of jurisdictional overbearing, and a myopic view due to estranged perceptions of best management out come.

Caught between the rock and the pending deluge we can little afford over regulatory that is not based in a level playing field.
I hope you can accept this comment as a sincere base observation of the quandary of opposing interpretation of law and BMP. It is okay to remove it as well.

Robby said...

“prior appropriation” actually came before the 1917 Water Law. In June of 1899 the WA Supreme Court decided on prior appropriation in Offield vs. Ish. Offield had staked claim and appropriated the water, Ish moved in upstream and diverted it to his use. The court ruled in favor of Offield because he had appropriated the water first.

Robby said...

Contrary to the article, "prior appropriation" for water rights came prior to the 1917 Water Law. In 1899, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled on prior appropriation in Offield v Ish. Offield had claimed, and appropriated the water prior to Ish. Ish moved in and diverted the water upstream. The Court ruled for Offield since he was first in time, so first in right.