Sen. Judy Warnick’s legislation to fix the Hirst decision was approved Tuesday evening by the state Senate, despite efforts by some opposition Democrats to delay a legislative response that would aid rural homeowners. The decision, issued by the state Supreme Court in late 2016, effectively prevents the drilling of small, household wells without costly studies that must be done before a building permit is issued. Senate Bill 5239, The bill was approved 28 to 21 and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
On the Senate floor, Warnick, who chairs the Senate’s water-related committee, read from the high court’s dissenting opinion: “The practical result of this holding is to stop counties from granting building permits that rely on permit-exempt wells. Not only is this contrary to the clear legislative purpose of RCW 19.27.097, it potentially puts counties at odds with the Department of Ecology and imposes impossible burdens on landowners.”
The Hirst decision effectively halts development in many of Washington’s 39 counties, hitting rural areas the hardest. It would have a chilling effect on rural economic development by requiring local governments to make legal determinations of water availability – work already done by the state Department of Ecology – and sets up a situation where local jurisdictions and the state could be at odds issuing permits for small, household wells.
“During the committee hearing, we had everyday people pleading with us to fix this issue,” Warnick said. “I am confident that this is the right path forward. We have worked with stakeholders, reviewed our state’s water-law history and brought forth this legislation as a good-faith solution for the people in our state who are suffering because of this court decision.”
“Not fixing this flawed decision means hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of lost economic activity for our state and potentially the loss of a person’s life savings,” said Warnick. “Local jurisdictions are looking to us for clarity and guidance and this bill provides that.”
“This bill is not just about wells or water law. It is about people and the significant and negative impact this decision has had on their property and future,” Warnick added.