Fish Should Not Be Controversial
The fact that fish need water and that Alaskans love their fish should not be controversial. But the House Fisheries Committee held a meeting to learn about the Department of […]
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The fact that fish need water and that Alaskans love their fish should not be controversial. But the House Fisheries Committee held a meeting to learn about the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) proposed changes to the regulations that allow Alaskans to keep water in streams for fish. Although DNR refused to show up, Cook Inletkeeper raised serious concerns with the proposed changes and presented a simple solution to empower Alaskans to protect our wild fish resources.

But first a short intro to Alaska Water Law 101. I won’t drown you with the complexities of water law, but for anyone who wants to nerd out there are some great primers here and here

The way the law works is that when someone is taking water out of a stream, DNR determines whether the request is in the public interest and will be put to a “beneficial use.” And while everyday Alaskans can take water out of streams to water a garden or for drinking water, many water rights are given to Outside corporations for industrial uses.

Alternatively, to keep water in a stream or lake (also known as instream flows reservations) to protect fish, a person must complete exhaustive studies to justify why water should be left in a stream or a lake. While anyone is currently allowed to apply for an instream flow, DNR—and oil, gas & mining corporations—want to change the rules so individual Alaskans could apply to reserve water in a stream, but they could no longer hold the resulting water right. 

This rule change significantly weakens Alaskans’ ability to enforce the public’s rights to protect our fish streams. It also creates an unfair dynamic where private (often foreign) corporations can hold the right to take water out of streams, but Alaskans cannot hold the right to keep water in them. 

The industry trade groups—the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, the Alaska Mining Association, the Resource Development Council, and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce—argue that  “private parties must not have control over public water.” But this is an absurd double standard. Any private company—including many from all around the world—can, and do, apply and receive the right to remove and use Alaska’s water. Apparently when a private company that has no interest in protecting salmon streams, fishing, recreational use, or wildlife habitat wants to have control over public water, the state finds that is both acceptable and beneficial and readily gives away Alaska’s water. 

There is a simple solution to this patently unfair situation: Alaska should simply require anyone removing water from a stream to ensure there is always enough water left behind to protect the stream—including the fish, wildlife, and Alaskans who rely on it. And that instream flow reservation should be enforceable if a company harms our publicly-owned resources. 

Right now, DNR is moving ahead to adopt rules supported by the oil, gas and mining industries. It’s time our elected officials take action to represent Alaskans and to protect our fish and our resources which are so vital to our Alaskan way of life.

Alaska Water Rights Comparison

Right to Use WaterRight to Reserve Water
WhatRemoving water from streams, lakes, or underground for “beneficial use”Keeping a specific amount (or flow) of water in place for a period of time and for a specific reason
When<500 gallons a day for 10 days a year or 5K gallons in a dayTo protect a specific use – fish & wildlife habitat, recreation, transportation, and sanitation
WhoAnyone: Individuals, state or federal agencies, private companiesAnyone: Individuals, state or federal agencies, private organizations
How many17,500 water use rights existing174 reservations granted
HowApplication & filing fee ($100 to 1,500)Application and pay $1,500Complete an intensive study to justify the reservation w/in 3 years

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