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Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Abstract

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Water Resources Act of 1971, Washington’s program to protect instream flows in state rivers. Implementation has been controversial and, even a half century later, incomplete. Part 1 introduces the Act. Part 2 examines its legislative history, and administrative development by the Department of Ecology. The Act innovated water allocation, putting instream flows and public uses of rivers on par with out-of-stream water rights. But river protection labors under serious limitations, chief among them the subordination of instream flows to pre-existing water rights. And, although only half of Washington’s watersheds are protected under the Act, the program has ground to a halt. Part 3 examines twelve lawsuits that interpreted or relied on the Act, and the role of the courts in both endorsing and eroding the Act’s provisions. Part 4 concludes with recommendations for new water resources policy legislation. Absent affirmative steps by the state Legislature, Washington’s rivers are unprepared for the adverse impacts of the climate crisis.

First Page

115

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