In victory for salmon, the Alaska Superior Court ruled that the Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules by denying Alaskans’ their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs. The case challenged DNR’s issuance of a water permit to a coal mining company for the Chuitna Coal Project without first considering a citizen application to keep water in Middle Creek to protect salmon and salmon habitat.
Trustees for Alaska, on behalf of our clients, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, filed for instream flow rights on Middle Creek, which supports wild runs of Chinook and Coho within the Chuitna River Watershed. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accepted these applications but refused to process them. DNR then approved Temporary Water Use Permits allowing PacRim Coal to remove up to 305,000 gallons from the same waterbody without any consideration of the pending request for instream reservation of water.
Chuitna Citizens appealed that decision, arguing DNR had to consider the water they had requested for fish habitat before giving water to PacRim. The DNR Commissioner dismissed Chuitna Citizens’ claims, but The Alaska Superior Court overturned the DNR decision, holding that DNR had to consider Chuitna Citizens’ application to keep water in the stream for fish.