San Juan County’s application to the Washington State Department of Ecology for the acquisition of rainwater catchment rights for all parcels on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and San Juan Islands should be rejected or withdrawn. The State’s position is that citizens who catch, store and drink rain water falling on their property must be first granted water rights to the condensation and falling rain. Farm and orchard owners in Washington are not required to obtain water rights for the rain precipitating out of the air passing over their land even though selling it in their produce. This is a clear violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution, 14th amendment. Power to violate citizens’ 14th amendment rights transferred to San Juan County instead of transferring “rain water rights” to the property owner is absurd.
San Juan County seeks being in a position holding that the water rights to precipitation falling or condensation forming on the roof of a landowner’s house, the evaporator coils of his air conditioner, etc., must be obtained from the county if that water is to be used to drink, wash dishes, bathe, etc. But, such water rights need not be granted to use the condensate (rain) for watering lawns, trees, gardens, animals, fill wells, etc., whether drained first from the roof or ‘permitted’ to fall on leaves, ponds and watering troughs. If the county doesn’t intend to demand such obligation from all those citizens and corporations benefiting from falling condensation and that collected from evaporator coils and cool soil, the county assumes the power to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. There is nothing equal about government requiring one citizen class obtain state approval for drinking the precipitation falling or condensing on their property while not demanding similar application for rain water rights by the majority class for all uses of such precipitation.
The state legislature could correct the situation by transferring such rights to all land owners and inhabitants where no rivers and streams are significantly impacted (e.g. less than one acre-foot of water annually from 5000 square feet of catchment surface, and less catchment surface than ¼ acre/acre ). Such rational action from state legislators rarely occurs without some special interest entity financially benefitting from it (and will donate to campaigns).
The state’s constitution was written to equally protect citizens’ access to water after it reaches the ground, collects into streams and can leave the property via gravity-powered routing if not restrained by the property owner. The state’s position extending this ground water access to atmospheric humidity and resultant precipitation and condensation sounds ‘reasonable’ only to lawyers. It makes a mockery of law and tyrants of its enforcers.
Sam Windsor is an Eastsound resident and a member of the Orcas Island School District Budget Advisory Committee.