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
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 www.chuitnacoalproject.com
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
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 http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HB%20%2077