Spokane River – Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer rule

On Feb. 27, 2015, the Water Resources Management Program for the Spokane River and Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie (SVRP) Aquifer (Chapter 173-557 WAC) took effect for the benefit of the community and the River. The rule protects river flows and balances the needs of all water users by setting a regulatory threshold to determine when there is water available for new uses.

Rule implementation

The Water Resources Management Program for the SVRP Aquifer applies to the mainstem of the Spokane River and those portions of Spokane and Stevens counties within the boundary of the SVRP Aquifer. After Feb. 27, 2015, all new uses of water from the Spokane River and SVRP Aquifer — including new water right permits and permit-exempt groundwater withdrawals — are required to comply with the rule.

SVRP Aquifer Bank

If you are not able to connect to an existing water supplier for your water needs, you may need to use groundwater from a permit-exempt well. Mitigation is required for all new groundwater uses in the SVRP Aquifer.

We acquired and placed into trust a senior water right for the purpose of offsetting river impacts from the few new domestic wells expected in the rule area. We used this water right to establish the SVRP Aquifer Bank, which provides mitigation water to allow uninterruptible water for new permit-exempt domestic uses.

For more information:

Rule appeal

On May 27, 2016, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, American Whitewater, and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of the Spokane River instream flow rule.

The appeal was heard in Thurston County Superior Court on June 9, 2017. This court denied the petitioners’ challenge to the rule.

On July 28, 2017, the petitioners filed an appeal of the Superior Court decision with a request for direct review by the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court denied the request for direct review.

The appeal was heard in the Washington State Court of Appeals on Feb. 28, 2019. On June 26, the Court of Appeals published a decision invalidating the Spokane Instream Flow Rule. The court found that our agency had too narrowly focused on flows to support fish habitat and did not give enough consideration to other instream values, specifically recreation. In particular, the court found that setting the instream flow at 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) during the summer months exceeded the agency’s statutory authority and was arbitrary and capricious.

On July 12, we filed a motion with the Court of Appeals asking for clarification of the Spokane Rule decision. We were seeking clarification from the court on what elements of the rule were affected. On Aug. 20, the court granted our motion for reconsideration and clarified that the decision applies only to the 850 cfs summer flow. They updated the opinion that includes this clarification.

On Sept. 18, 2019 the agency filed a petition asking for the Supreme Court’s discretionary review of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which was granted. The Supreme Court heard the case on May 14, 2020. The briefs filed in this case can be found by going to the Supreme Court’s website. Briefs are listed under “97684-8 - Center for Environmental Law & Policy, et al. v. State of Washington, Department of Ecology.”

On Aug. 6, 2020 the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld our approach. This outcome underscores that our work to protect instream resources is sound.

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