Matthew D. Wells

direct 206.407.0502

Matt Wells is an environmental and natural resources compliance attorney with a focus on marine and fresh water resource issues. He regularly represents public and private clients in regulatory proceedings and private negotiations relating to water rights, project permitting and cleanup of historic contamination. Utilizing his strong science and policy background, Matt has practiced for over 20 years as an attorney, bringing common sense and perspective to help clients achieve their objectives. Clients include cities, utilities, port districts, transit agencies, Fortune 500 companies, local businesses, non-profits and individuals. Projects that Matt is most proud to have been part of include: cleanup of the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma: relicensing settlement for a major hydropower facility in Eastern Washington; establishment of a series of wetland mitigation banks in Western Washington; and resolving all surface water claims for a major municipality involved in the Acquavella water rights adjudication.

Matt was selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2017 in the field of Environmental Law. Matt is also included on the Washington Super Lawyers® list and has achieved the prestigious “AV® Preeminent™” peer review rating in the Martindale-Hubbell® Law Directory.* *AV® Preeminent™ is a certification mark of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used in accordance with the Martindale-Hubbell certification procedures, standards and policies.

See www.martindale.com/ratings.

Best Lawyers Award Badge

Representative Matters

  • Water Rights.  Represents the only municipal major claimant in the general stream adjudication for the Yakima River, the largest and longest-running water rights adjudication in Washington, helping to achieve comprehensive settlement of all the municipality’s claims.  Matt also regularly represents clients before Ecology and local water conservancy boards on water rights acquisition, transfer and management matters.  He also represents buyers, sellers and lenders in transactions involving water rights, including foreclosures.
  • Cleanup. Regularly represents clients on environmental liability and remediation issues, including cost allocation, access for cleanup and resolution of liability through consent decrees and agreed orders with state and federal regulators, and private agreements among responsible parties.  Many of Matt’s projects involve shorelines, shorelands and sediments.  Major projects include representation of a responsible party in cost allocation and cleanup issues at the Portland Harbor Superfund site and complete settlement of all claims related to a century of historic contamination at the Thea Foss Waterway Superfund site in Tacoma, Washington.
  • Due Diligence. Matt represents buyers, sellers and lenders in transactions involving contaminated property or the risk of contamination. Recent transactions include representing the buyer of a major bulk oil terminal on Puget Sound and the buyer of several large commercial properties in Seattle.
  • Natural Resource Damages.  Represented the state-designated trustee in its restoration-based resolution of NRD claims arising from a gasoline spill and explosion along Whatcom creek in Western Washington.  Represented the responsible party in achieving the first state-only NRD settlement in Washington.  Represents a responsible party in a private cost allocation and mediated settlement negotiations between dozens of parties and federal, state and tribal trustees over NRD claims at the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma.
  • Hydropower.  Represents a municipal utility in Federal Power Act relicensing of a major hydropower facility in Eastern Washington, and implementation of the new license under a comprehensive settlement of all contested issues between the utility and federal, tribal, state and local entities.  Substantive issues include protection, mitigation and enhancement measures related to fish and aquatic resources, water quality (303(d) listings, TMDLs and 401 certification), water rights, endangered species, and cultural and terrestrial resources.
  • Project Permitting.  Represented a Washington port district in all aspects of permitting and environmental review (including Corps permitting, NEPA/SEPA review, ESA consultation, NHPA review and consultation, 401 certification and CZMA/SMA consistency review) for a new rail-barge facility in Puget Sound.  Represented a coalition of Washington and Oregon ports in obtaining regulatory approvals for the Corps’ deepening of the navigation channel in the lower 112 miles of the Columbia River.
  • Environmental Review.  Virtually all of Matt’s projects involve environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or Washington’s counterpart, the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).  Matt regularly counsels public and private clients in NEPA and SEPA review and compliance issues.  Representative projects not noted above include advising a local transit agency in its preparation of a supplemental EIS for its long-range system plan update covering extensive new light rail, commuter rail and regional express bus service.
  • Environmental Enforcement. Projects include representing clients before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board to defend against penalty orders issued by the Department of Ecology and other regulatory agencies. Matt also represents clients engaged in EPA enforcement matters.
  • Habitat Restoration.  Represented a land conservancy in a series of transactions related to establishment of four private and public wetland mitigation banks in Western Washington.  On behalf of the conservancy, Matt negotiated the conservation easements, funding agreements and stewardship provisions to ensure long-term protection of the restored habitat.

Professional Activities

Speaker, Appraisal Institute Water Rights Seminar, Seattle (2015 and 2012); Program Co-Chair and/or speaker, Water Rights Transfers in Washington CLE, Seattle (2010-15); Program co-chair, WSBA Environmental and Land Use Law Section Midyear Meeting and Seminar, Chelan (2009); Program co-chair and speaker, Water Rights Transfers in Washington CLE, Seattle (2008); Program co-chair and speaker, annual Washington Water Law CLEs, Seattle (2004-07); Speaker, 11th Annual Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference, Seattle (2003); Member Washington State Bar Association, Environmental and Land Use Law Section; Member, Washington Water Policy Alliance; LEED Accredited Professional (2009).

Prior Experience

Partner, K&L Gates LLP, Seattle (formerly Preston, Gates & Ellis LLP) (2003-10); Associate, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP (1995-2003); Judicial Clerk to the Honorable Alan A. McDonald, US District Court, Eastern District of Washington, Yakima (1992-94); Legislative Assistant to Senator Lowell Weicker, Washington, DC (1987-88); Sea Grant Congressional Fellow, Office of Senator Lowell Weicker (1986-87); Deckhand and cook, F/V StoneHorse, Bristol Bay Alaska (seasonal, 1984-91).


J.D., University of Washington School of Law, 1992, with high honors; Order of the Coif; Managing Editor, Washington Law Review.
Master of Marine Affairs, University of Washington, 1986.
B.S., Yale University, cum laude and with Distinction in the Major, Geology and Geophysics, 1982.


Washington State Bar Association
Supreme Court of the State of Washington
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington
U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington

Community Activities

Advisory Board Member, Bishop Blanchet High School, Seattle (2015-present); School Commission Member, St. John Catholic School, Seattle (2012-2015); Board member, Pike Market Childcare and Preschool, Seattle (2008-2013); Participant, Leadership Tomorrow, Seattle (2004); Pro bono coordinator, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP (2003-07); Volunteer attorney, KCBA Central District Neighborhood Legal Clinic, Seattle (1996-present).