Swinomish Indian Tribal Comm'y v. Dep't of Ecology (Majority and Dissent)Annotate this Case
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case involved the validity of an amended rule from the Department of Ecology that reserved water from the Skagit River system for future year-round out-of-stream uses, despite the fact that in times of low stream flows these uses would impair established minimum in-stream flows necessary for fish, wildlife, recreation, navigation, scenic and aesthetic values. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (Tribe) sued, challenging the validity of Ecology's amended rule reserving the water. The trial court upheld the amended rule and dismissed the Tribe's petition. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that Ecology erroneously interpreted the statutory exception as broad authority to reallocate water for new beneficial uses when the requirements for appropriating water for these uses otherwise cannot be met. "The exception is very narrow, however, and requires extraordinary circumstances before the minimum flow water right can be impaired." Because the amended rule exceeded Ecology's authority under the statute, the amended rule reserving the water was invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).