Washington State – Water – Hirst Victory

The Washington State House and Senate reached a deal and passed SB 6091 on January 18, 2018, which fixes the 2016 Washington State Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision. Governor Inslee signed the Hirst fix legislation at 12:25 p.m. on January 19, 2018.

Whatcom County will now be accepting permit applications for wells!

SB 6091 includes:
•Local governments can once again rely on Ecology as the state’s resource manager.
•3,000 gallons per day per connection for domestic wells in certain basins with existing watershed planning.
•In certain basins without watershed planning, household wells could withdraw 950 gallons per day per connection. This would change to 350 gallons per day for indoor use only in drought conditions. However, outdoor use would be permitted for fire buffers. Water enhancement and restoration committees will also be created for these local basins. These committees will invest $300 million dollars into improving the state’s water resource.

The Hirst fix signed into law provides a solid solution for families, businesses and rural communities in Washington.

The new law impacts only new domestic uses. Existing homeowners and water users are not affected by the new law, which went into effect on January 19, 2018.

Existing wells are exempt from the provisions of the new law. The Legislature wrote the new law so that wells constructed in the Hirst-affected basins before the effective date of the act would serve as proof of an adequate water supply for a building permit. Wells constructed in these basins in compliance with chapter 18.104 RCW are not subject to the new restrictions, limitations, and fees. This is regardless of whether the well was put to beneficial use prior to January 19, 2018.

Whatcom County Water Rights

The Washington Supreme Court decision in Hirst et al. vs. Whatcom County, WA Sup. Ct. No. 91475-3, took away the right of rural property owners to develop small household sized wells. This case, you may recall, concerned Whatcom County’s use of exempt wells to allow construction in the unincorporated portions of Whatcom County, particularly in areas where the watershed had not been closed. The County argued that it was able to rely on the Dept. of Ecology’s determinations concerning water availability to make such decisions and to grant permits for construction where the water would be provided by an exempt well.
The Senate’s effort to save household wells was highlighted at a hearing Tuesday, February 21, 2017, before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Property owners from Whatcom County and elsewhere said they have been devastated by the Supreme Court’s decision last fall that took away their rights to drill wells, and with it, their right to build on the land. A vote on SB 5239 is expected this week.
A hearing in Olympia makes a compelling case for household wells, property owners. Please watch the following Hearing:

Follow effort to save household wells on Washington State Senator, Doug Erickson’s, webpage: Senator Doug Erickson Webpage