The chair of the Senate’s water-policy committee has responded to an anti-rural ruling from the state Supreme Court by filing legislation concerning the availability of water for new household wells. Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, has scheduled Senate Bill 5239 for a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 8 a.m. before the Senate Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee.
Warnick says the high court’s recent Hirst decision would effectively halt 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.
Her measure would support development in rural areas by limiting the factors that drive up the cost of obtaining water supplies for new-home construction.
“Water is already a critical issue for our state,” Warnick said. “This court decision makes our problems even worse and shows a real disconnect between the court and everyday Washingtonians. Many in rural communities around the state view this action as a war on rural Washington because so many people rely on these household wells that previously have never been an issue.”
In practice, the case requires counties with already limited resources to conduct costly studies on water availability for wells that have for decades been exempt due to the extremely low amounts of water used for household purposes. The costs of the studies, which could add thousands of dollars to the cost of homebuilding in rural areas, likely would be passed on to homeowners.
“We face a situation where people in rural areas who don’t have the luxury of hooking up to city water now have very few options,” Warnick said. “We are one Washington, but the realities faced by the communities I represent sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. We are talking about families who will now have to pay tens of thousands of more dollars to get water because the state Supreme Court has taken decades of water law and turned it on its head.”
“I am hopeful that my bill will provide a collaborative approach, needed relief, and certainty in the wake of this bizarre court decision,” Warnick added.