House fails to act on needed water relief for state’s rural residents

On the day of the deadline by which policy bills must be approved to continue in the legislative process, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee failed to approve Senate Bill 5239, the “Hirst fix” legislation sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. This failure to act leaves rural residents hoping to drill a small, household well without access to water.

In late 2016 the state Supreme Court issued its Hirst decision, which turned decades of water law on its head and prevents future domestic wells from being used. Warnick, who chairs the Senate’s water-related committee, made the following statement in light of the House’s inaction.

“I am disappointed that the House committee was unable to move my legislation that brings needed relief to residents in rural areas of our state. I worked with stakeholders to address concerns and put forth a solution that actually works for the thousands of people who are left with no access to water on their properties.

“When the session began, the impacts of the Hirst decision became painfully clear. The lives of the people I represent and really, of all of Washington’s residents who don’t have the luxury of hooking up to city water systems, are being adversely affected and it demands action.

“This issue is not just about water. The inability for housing development in rural areas is crippling for county revenues, for school districts and for areas in our state that haven’t felt the economic recovery like the Central Puget Sound has. Families are hurting and they deserve relief.

“The next step to solve this crisis is on the House. The Senate approved a bipartisan solution to address the Hirst decision – the House failed to act. I listened to the people who had spent their life’s savings on a property to make a home, but the House ignored them.

“The bottom line is that we must deliver a reasonable policy that lets property owners have access to water on their property without undue burdens and costs that will make their lives harder.”