KAMILCHE – A Thurston County Superior Court ruled in favor of an effort by the Squaxin Island Tribe to protect the Johns Creek Basin. Squaxin filed suit last year asking the state to impose a moratorium on drilling new wells until the state determines if water is legally available to supply those wells.
Judge Paula Casey ruled that the state’s inaction was “arbitrary and capricious.”
“We’re elated that the court took a step to protect Johns Creek,” said Andy Whitener, the tribe’s natural resources director. “But our mission will not be accomplished until state agencies take concrete actions to increase streamflow and benefit salmon.”
The tribe petitioned the state Department of Ecology twice in two years to stop new water withdrawals in the Johns Creek Basin until enough scientific information is available to quantify the environmental impacts of pumping water out of those newly drilled wells. The state rejected both requests, citing budget constraints.
“Every year since recordkeeping began in the 1950’s, Johns Creek has had less and less water, and in every one of those years, more wells have been drilled in the basin,” Whitener said. “ Not only are minimum flows not being met, but the water shortage gets worse every year.”
Since the state set minimum flows in 1984 (WAC 173-514), more than 200 “permit-exempt” wells have been drilled in the Johns Creek Basin. State law allows these wells to be drilled without having to first obtain a permit and consents to withdrawals of up to 5,000 gallons a day.
“While we seek cooperation first in all of our natural resources management efforts, there are times when we must go to court to protect our culture and treaty rights,” said Whitener.