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Washington Supreme Court Rules for Salmon against Landowners
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Last Thursday, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community won an important victory at the Washington Supreme Court on behalf of salmon, steelheads and the tribe. The court struck down rules approved by the Department of Ecology that allocated water from the Skagit River to about 6000 landowners including at least 600 residents who have already built their homes.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community had sued the Department of Ecology contending that the allocation of water to landowners would bring down water levels in the Skagit and would adversely affect populations of salmon and steelhead.

  
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The Skagit is one of the few rivers inhabited by all species of pacific salmon and home to three species of fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Following the ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court, the Department of Ecology issued a statement expressing disappointment and promising to solve water supply problems for affected landowners and residents.

While the state had won at the lower court, the ruling was overturned at the state Supreme Court by a 6-3 decision which held that the Department of Ecology had overstepped its authority in allocating water from the Skagit River to landowners.

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The chairman of the Swinomish tribe, Brian Cladoosby, said it was a huge victory for the Swinomish people, a Western Washington tribe located at the mouth of the Skagit River, and a victory for the salmon which needed adequate water flows to survive.

The case was litigated for years and closely watched by landowners who had drilled wells in the Skagit River basin about a decade ago.



The Civil Attorney of Skagit County said the decision can leave thousands of rural landowners without any legal source of water.



 

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