Water Rights Adjudication of WRIA 1 (Nooksack River System) Begins

May 8th, 2024 - Luke Phifer

On May 1st, 2024, the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) filed a water rights adjudication for Water Resource Inventory Area 1 (WRIA 1) with the Whatcom County Superior Court.  This filing, which follows years of planning, preparation, and community outreach, formally begins the adjudication process.

What is a Water Rights Adjudication?

In short, a water rights adjudication is a formal legal process established for determining surface and ground water rights within a certain area. In Washington, the process for an adjudication is set forth in RCW 90.03. Each water right’s legal basis, quantity, and priority date is evaluated through the adjudication process. For more general information about adjudication, see our firm’s previous water law and water rights blog posts.

Who is Involved in the WRIA 1 Adjudication?

The adjudication will involve all water rights holders within WRIA 1, which contains the Nooksack River system and some nearby areas. WRIA 1 includes most of Whatcom County and some parts of northern Skagit County. You can see a map of the approximate boundaries of WRIA 1 here.

All water users within WRIA 1 who do not exclusively use water from a utility (such as a city) will need to participate in the adjudication process. This includes those with permit-exempt wells as well as Group A and Group B water systems.

A list of all the persons and entities the Ecology anticipates will be served in the adjudication is included as Exhibit C to the declaration filed with the court on May 1st. Note that this list may still be amended prior to being adopted by the court.

If you have a recorded water right within WRIA 1, you may have received a postcard from Ecology last month with information about the adjudication process.

What Happens Now?

Now that the adjudication has been filed, the next step is for the court to review the summons and service list that have been proposed by Ecology. Once those documents have been approved by the court, Ecology will send the summons, along with instructions and court claim forms, via certified mail to everyone included on the service list. If you have a water right within WRIA 1, be sure to be on the lookout for this certified mailing later this summer.

If you receive a summons, you will have one year (from the date of the court’s order approving the summons) to complete the form and submit it to the court. This submission can be done in person, by mail, or online. From the court filings, it appears that Ecology aims to get the summons approved at a hearing on June 26th, though that date is subject to change.

While the deadline to file a claim is still over a year away, you can start analyzing your current water usage and evaluating your water right documents today. Water rights are valuable, and you want to be in the best position possible to protect them.

If you have questions or concerns about your water right(s) or the adjudication process, a lawyer experienced in water law can help.

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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