On Apr.15, 2019, Ecology Director Maia Bellon signed the tri-party settlement agreement in the United States of America, Spokane Tribe of Indians, v. Barbara J. Anderson, et al. case to address impacts of permit-exempt wells on flows in Chamokane Creek. This is a significant achievement that protects stream flows and fish, while providing access to water for rural residents in the watershed.
We agreed to provide internet access to the legal information and notices on behalf of the parties for the agreement on our webpage. When finalized, we will post formal notices and forms from the federal court on this page.
Chamokane Creek flows along the eastern margin of the Spokane Indian Reservation in Stevens County. Water rights in portions of the 179-square-mile basin were adjudicated in 1979, and oversight of water rights in the basin are within the jurisdiction of the federal court.
In this case, the federal court determined that the Tribe has a water right to benefit fish in Chamokane Creek, so an instream flow was established for the creek. Historically, domestic water and stock water uses were considered so small that they did not need to be regulated.
Over the past 40 years, additional wells have been drilled for domestic and stock use in the Chamokane basin. In 1997, the federal court determined that any further groundwater or surface-water appropriation would impair senior rights.
Concerns over the impacts of permit-exempt uses spurred additional legal arguments. The federal court ordered the Spokane Tribe, Washington state, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a study to address the concerns. The United States Geological Survey found that groundwater and surface water is hydraulically connected throughout the basin. This means that any groundwater withdrawals in the basin influence the available surface water in Chamokane Creek.
In 2019, Ecology, the Spokane Tribe, and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement that will protect flows for fish, senior water rights, and provide water for future rural development. The three governments agreed the best way forward is to not disrupt current stock use and domestic use and have developed a mitigation program that offsets the impacts to Chamokane Creek from these uses.