State Supreme Court Rebuffs Local Initiative on "Rights of Nature" for Spokane River

Published Mar 01, 2016
Water Resources

On February 4, 2016, the Washington Supreme Court rejected a ballot initiative in the City of Spokane that would have extended the novel concept of “rights of nature” to the Spokane River by giving the river an enforceable legal right to “exist and flourish.”  In an article published in the March edition of Western Water Law & Policy Reporter, TMW attorney Sarah Mack explains the Court’s decision to exclude from the ballot an initiative purporting to regulate water law and other subjects outside the scope of local initiative authority.

Envision Spokane’s attempt to confer on the Spokane River enforceable legal rights to “sustainable recharge, sufficient flows to support native fish, and clean water” is part of a broader effort to establish rights of ecosystems or “rights of nature,” as a rights-based legal framework to protect the environment.  Applying the straightforward rationale that local municipal initiatives are an improper vehicle for changing state and federal laws, the Court’s decision has severely dampened the prospects for additional “rights of nature” initiatives at the local level.  Envision Spokane and other proponents of “rights of nature” laws must resort to the State Legislature or the state initiative process. For more information, contact Sarah Mack at