Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"WSU WATER RIGHTS: Group to appeal board's decision; State's Pollution Control Hearings Board denies request to reconsider earlier ruling"

We're just puttin' on the green and filin' frivilous lawsuits. Where all the money for this is coming from, nobody knows.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
A group of conservationists intend to appeal a ruling in their water mining case against Washington State University and the state Department of Ecology.

The appeal will be filed in Whitman County Superior Court, said Rachel Paschal Osborn, a Spokane-based attorney with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy who represents the group of conservationists.

The group contends WSU's attempts to consolidate its wells will adversely affect other wells in the area, arguing that the university will annually draw more than three times the amount of water it currently does.

In 2006, Ecology granted WSU's request to consolidate its seven wells. The Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board reviewed the conservationists' initial appeal in January, and ruled April 17 that the Palouse Water Conservation Network, the Palouse Group Sierra Club and Pullman-area resident Scotty Cornelius did not prove that the consolidation would negatively affect other wells in the area.

Osborn said the appeal to Whitman County Superior Court is necessary because the three-judge hearings board denied her request to re-evaluate its decision.

Osborn asked the board to reconsider specifically because the Department of Ecology was not required to analyze the declining Grand Ronde aquifer. The analysis would determine how low aquifer levels can drop before the state intervenes. The outcome of the analysis, called a "reasonable and feasible pump lift," could lead the state to limit the amount of water used by major pumpers such as WSU, or put a freeze on water rights applications.

"Our reaction is that we're going to appeal," Osborn said. "We think that this is the final decision in a series of decisions where we think justice has not been done, so we're going to pursue review.

"They said they properly interpreted the case. They said there's not a problem with the declining aquifer," she added. "If you don't have to do the test in this situation, where would you ever have to do it? It's abundantly obvious there is a problem with the Grand Ronde aquifer."

Osborn has 30 days from Friday to file the necessary paperwork in Whitman County.

The conservationists claim WSU's ability to consolidate its water rights will allow it to annually pump more than three times the amount of water it currently does. The group argues that the university has contributed to the dropping levels in the Grand Ronde aquifer, and claims that the 18-hole Palouse Ridge Golf Club will create more drawdown of the area's primary water source.

The group was forced to prove that the consolidation interrupts or interferes with the availability of water in the Grand Ronde aquifer for residents throughout the Palouse. The hearings board determined that the general decline of the aquifer, claims that the university is mining water and the role of the golf course in the aquifer's declining levels were not relevant in the case.

"The board is operating on two assumptions: That they're requiring us to show causation ... but they have interpreted the law in a way that we can't prove that," she said. "We have to appeal."

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