Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Judge Rules That Water Rights Affecting Wild Salmon Were Violated

An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled this past week that the state violated citizens' constitutional rights by refusing to process a four-year-old application requesting to reserve water for wild salmon in the Chuitna River watershed.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner ruled in litigation brought by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition to force the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to process three instream flow reservations for protection of fish and wildlife. The coalition had paid $4,500 in filing fees.

Rindner found insufficient the Alaska Department of Natural Resources arguments for its delay of Chuitna’s application. “Chuitna has a due process right to a prompt and fair adjudication of its applications,” the judge said.

The state of Alaska was given 30 days to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile the state could not issue water use permits to PacRim LP, which has proposed to build a strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet.

PacRim LP, a Delaware-based corporation, holds a state lease to more than 20,000 acres of Alaska Mental Health Trust property where an estimated 1 billion metric tons of low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal is believed to exist. The limited partnership is affiliated with the Texas billionaire Hunt brothers. The project website is

Trustees for Alaska is representing the Chuitna Citizens Coalition in the case.

Temporary water use permits allow a permit holder to use “a significant amount of water” for up to five years. That’s the consumptive use of more than 5,000 gallons of water from a single source in a single day, according to state statutes.

Rindner noted that DNR has never adjudicated instream flow reservation applications from a private organization, but has adjudicated such applications from government organizations. Meanwhile, DNR has processed temporary water use permits and appropriation applications from private organizations.

The litigation stems from conflict between the citizens coalition and PacRim’s proposed Chuitna coal strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet, which would be the first project in state history to mine directly through a wild salmon stream.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell supports passage in the upcoming legislative session of House Bill 77, which would remove the ability of nongovernment entities to apply for instream flow reservations. HB 77 was introduced in the last legislative session. The bill history is online at

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