The Washington Supreme Court today upheld a challenge to state water law, affirming the state’s position that groundwater used for stock-watering purposes is exempt from the requirement to apply for a water permit.

The case stemmed from a dispute over whether Easterday Ranches in Franklin County was required to obtain a permit to withdraw water from a well to operate a cattle feedlot serving about 30,000 head of cattle. Mary Sue Wilson, Ecology Division chief for the Attorney General’s Office, argued on behalf of the state that state law clearly exempts this type of activity from water right permitting requirements. In its 6-3 decision, the state Supreme Court agreed, “Under the plain language of the statute, withdrawals of groundwater for stock-watering purposes are not limited to any particular quantity.”

“The legislature exercised its policy prerogative to provide this particular permit exemption, without further acreage or gallon limitation, and only the legislature can adjust this policy by amending the statute,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Farmers and ranchers need certainty when it comes to water rights requirements and this decision provides that certainty.”

The decision was consistent with an Attorney General’s Opinion issued in 2005.