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High court declines to hear Skagit County water rights case

The state Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a Skagit County water rights case.

The county denied Richard and Marnie Fox a building permit in 2014 because the couple’s water source, a well, would have violated a state rule requiring water be left in streams to protect fish.

The high court agreed Wednesday not to hear the case, ending the couple’s legal challenges, according to the Skagit Valley Herald. An appellate court and lower court had ruled against the Foxes.

The couple argued it should be the responsibility of the state, not the couple, to prove the well would harm river flows in the Skagit River basin.

The Foxes are among hundreds of Washington homeowners who have been denied access to well water because of what is called the Instream Flow Rule. The rule established a water right for fish that trumps property owners who want to tap into groundwater reserves after the rule went into effect in 2001.

The Foxes’ attorney, Peter Ojala, says he’s surprised by the unanimous ruling but declined further comment.

Ecology and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community intervened in the case to back the state’s water rule.

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