§ 46-15.7-1. Legislative findings and declaration.
(a) The general assembly finds that:
(1) The constitution of the state of Rhode Island charges the general assembly with responsibility for the conservation of all natural resources, including water.
(2) The supply of fresh water available to the people of Rhode Island for use in their daily lives and to support agriculture, hydropower, indigenous wildlife and plant species, navigation, water-based recreation, wetlands, and other uses is finite and is not equally available or accessible throughout the state.
(3) A significant portion of the fresh water resource of the state is already being used to serve a variety of needs and purposes and the total volume and quality of the remaining fresh water resource of the state is subject to quantitative, qualitative, or geographic constraints on its availability or use.
(4) Allocation of the water resource of Rhode Island has thus far been accomplished on a random, first come, first served, or ad hoc basis with minimal or no consideration given to overall allocation of the resource so as to meet all present and foreseeable future needs.
(5) All of the data needed to properly manage the allocation and use of the water resource of the state are not available. The responsibility to provide essential data rests primarily upon those who withdraw and use the waters of the state.
(b) Therefore, the general assembly declares that:
(1) Management of the amounts, purposes, timing, locations, rates, and other characteristics of fresh water withdrawals from ground or surface waters is essential in order to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of the state of Rhode Island, to promote the continued existence, diversity, and health of the state's native wildlife and plant species and communities, and the fair and equitable allocation of the water resource among users and uses, and to insure that long-range rather than short-range considerations remain uppermost.
(2) To support these objectives adequate data is essential to determine the capabilities of the state's water resources to support various uses and users and the quantities of water needed for these uses.
(3) This requirement shall be carried out by management of fresh water resources of the state based on long-range planning for and conservation of these resources; fairness, equitable distribution, and consideration for all human uses; matching the use of water with the quality of water necessary for each use, giving priority to those uses that require the highest quality water; maintenance of native aquatic and terrestrial animal and plant species, populations, and communities and statewide diversity; continued upholding of and improvement in the quality of the environment and especially of the water resources itself; and careful integration with all other social, economic, and environmental objectives, programs, and plans of the state.
(4) The water resources board is the state agency which manages the withdrawal and use of the waters of the state of Rhode Island.
(5) With regard to agriculture, it is a priority of the state to preserve agriculture; securing this state priority involves allocation of water resources in a manner that provides for agricultural sustainability while recognizing the importance of other water uses, and accordingly, in any program by which water withdrawals may be allocated by the board pursuant to its powers, including, but not limited to, powers set forth in chapters 15, 15.1, 15.3 and 15.7 of this title, the board shall give priority to commercial agricultural producers, as defined in § 46-15.3-4(2), that have adopted and implemented an agricultural water withdrawal management plan which has been approved by the department of environmental management, division of agriculture, consistent with duly adopted plans and estimates regarding the aggregated supply available from the affected water resource. In putting into effect the purposes of this subdivision, the board shall consider the reduction in water withdrawal that has resulted from the implementation of an agricultural water withdrawal management plan as a credit against any reduction in water withdrawal which would otherwise be required; and to the extent not inconsistent:
(i) With the board's obligations to assure drinking water supplies under chapter 15.3 of this title and water supplies for fire protection; and
(ii) With federal and state law, the board shall allow commercial agricultural producers to continue to irrigate commercial crops either in fields or greenhouses, notwithstanding a critical dry period.
(P.L. 1998, ch. 285, § 1; P.L. 1999, ch. 461, § 4; P.L. 2000, ch. 336, § 2.)