Washington Law Review


Lynn B. Squires


In Department of Ecology v. Abbott, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the long-standing question of whether landowners who failed to exercise consumptive riparian rights3 within a reasonable period after the adoption of the Water Code of 1917 (1917 Code) lost those rights. The question arose when a riparian landowner, who had registered consumptive water rights as required by statute in 1971, was denied those rights in a 1982 stream adjudication. The basis for the denial was that the landowner's riparian rights had not been continuously exercised since 1917. The Water Rights Registration Act, with which the landowner complied in 1971, required that all riparian landowners register their water rights, whether exercised or not. In 1969, the legislature repealed a provision of the Water Rights Registration Act that would have extinguished unused riparian rights in Washington. Nevertheless, the Washington Supreme Court held (1) that the 1917 Code established prior appropriation as the dominant water law in Washington; (2) that after 1917 new water rights were acquired only by permit, and (3) that water rights existing in 1917 but not put to beneficial use by 1932 were relinquished.

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