The Court of Appeals Takes on the Relinquishment Exemption for Municipal Water Rights

David Stearns*

Originally Submitted Fall 2019

In Crown West Realty v. Department of Ecology,[1] a case watched closely by municipal water rights holders looking for certainty in their water rights portfolios, Division 3 of the Court of Appeals engaged for the first time with the definition of “municipal water supply purposes” in the statutory relinquishment exemption for rights claimed for such uses. The Court held that water used for a hotel did not qualify for the exemption. While the decision answers one set of questions, it raises a host of new ones that will give the courts, Ecology, and municipal water rights holders plenty to grapple with in the years to come. Unfortunately, the Washington State Supreme Court passed up an opportunity to iron out some of the wrinkles in Washington water law that Crown West is sure to leave for others to sort out. Continue reading “The Court of Appeals Takes on the Relinquishment Exemption for Municipal Water Rights”

Who is an “Owner or Operator” under MTCA? The Washington Supreme Court Just Narrowed the List of Candidates

Andy Rigel and Lisa Chaiet Rahman*

Originally Submitted Summer 2018

On May 24, 2018, the Washington Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated opinion analyzing the scope of “owner or operator” liability under Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act (“MTCA”). In Pope Resources, LP v. Washington State Department of Natural Resources,[1] the Court considered whether the Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) was an “owner or operator” of contaminated aquatic lands that it managed on behalf of the State of Washington. The Court held that (1) a state agency’s delegated land management authority does not constitute an “ownership interest” under MTCA and (2) “an operator must manage, direct, or conduct operations specifically related to the pollution” in order to trigger MTCA liability.[2] This case has significant implications because it provides definitive guidance regarding who is liable as an owner or operator, which is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of MTCA’s liability framework. Continue reading “Who is an “Owner or Operator” under MTCA? The Washington Supreme Court Just Narrowed the List of Candidates”