The state’s Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday announced a precedent-setting decision ensuring Alaskans’ rights to some control over natural resource use, and in the process angered practically all parties involved in a water rights dispute.

DNR’s division of mining land and water issued a decision Tuesday night regarding three instream flow water rights applications filed by the Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition. The Coalition wants the rights to water in Middle Creek, or “stream 2003”, a salmon-bearing tributary of the Chuitna River. A dispute erupted over the water rights applications, because PacRim Coal, which proposes a mine in the area, wants water rights to the same stream. The dispute reached the courts, and now, because of a court deadline forcing a decision on the Coalition’s applications, DNR has granted one permit out of the three the Coalition has applied for.

Brent Goodrum, director of mining, land and water, says in granting the rights to the lower Middle Creek, the Coalition has scored a first.

“The state up to this point has issued about 131 reservations of water throughout the state. All of them have been to either state or federal government agencies. This is unique because it is the first one that is being awarded to a private party.”

But the Coalition failed to gain DNR approval on its applications for rights to the middle and the main branches of Middle Creek, and that does not sit well with Coalition founder Ron Burnett, who says the Coalition applied for the water rights to Middle Creek to protect salmon habitat.

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