After decades of conflict over water use along Chamokane Creek, the Spokane Tribe, the United States, and Ecology reached an innovative agreement in April 2019. The tri-party settlement agreement in the United States of America, Spokane Tribe of Indians, v. Barbara J. Anderson, et al. case addresses the impacts of permit-exempt wells on flows in Chamokane Creek. The agreement centers on a mitigation program that will improve streamflows for fish, allow existing domestic water uses to continue, and provide water for future domestic needs in Stevens County.
We hosted an open house on Oct. 17, 2019, to answer questions from the community.
The legal documents related to the case can be found below.
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 stockwater uses were considered so small that they did not need to be regulated. Over the past 40 years, however, 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 U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a study to address the concerns. The U.S. Geological Survey conducted the study and 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 April 2019, our agency, the Spokane Tribe, and the U.S. government reached a settlement that will protect flows for fish, senior water rights, and provide water for future rural development. On July 31, 2019, the court granted the government parties’ joint motions to proceed with implementing the agreement. Under terms of the agreement, our agency will provide mitigation to offset the impacts of existing and future domestic water use. A program will be established to improve streamflows and temperatures, allowing fish to migrate upstream. We will primarily fund the agreement, with support from the Spokane Tribe and Bureau of Indian Affairs.