Department of Ecology News Release - May 28, 2020

Instream flow rule amendment adopted for Nooksack watershed

Updated rule creates benefits for streams and rural communities

The Nooksack River in northwest Washington.


The Washington Department of Ecology has amended the instream flow rule that affects parts of Whatcom County and small areas in Skagit County. The amendment provides water for new rural homeowners and benefits streamflows in the Nooksack River watershed, also known as Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 1.

The amendment adds flexibility for projects that save excess water during high flows and release it during low summer flows to bolster streams. It also establishes a water use conservation standard for new domestic permit-exempt wells, and makes minor technical updates to the existing rule. The change takes effect June 27. Public feedback was carefully considered in developing the amendment.

“This rule amendment balances the needs of future rural growth in the Nooksack watershed, while protecting and restoring local streamflows. We appreciate all the public engagement received throughout this process,” Ria Berns, manager of Ecology’s Water Resources program for the Northwest Region.

The rulemaking builds on the work undertaken during the 2018-2019 Streamflow Restoration planning process. The planning was conducted under a streamflow restoration law passed by the Legislature in 2018, in response to the Hirst decision. The law helps restore streamflows to levels necessary to support robust, healthy, and sustainable salmon populations while providing water for homes in rural Washington. The rulemaking began in February 2019 and is the first under the new law. Since then, Ecology held two public comment periods which included informational open houses, and, most recently, public hearings in January. Rulemaking was required to be completed by Aug. 1, 2020. 

To learn more about the rule amendment, please visit

Contact information

Keeley Belva
Water Resources Communications
Twitter: ecologywa