Senate passes Warnick legislation to improve transparency, efficiency for state’s only irrigation and rehab district

Washington state passed legislation in 1963 allowing irrigation districts that met certain requirements to become irrigation and rehabilitation districts, with the purpose of bolstering irrigation systems and improving shoreline health.

To date, the only such district in Washington is in Moses Lake, represented by state Sen. Judy Warnick.

She sponsored Senate Bill 5460 to make needed changes to how these districts operate, aimed at clarifying assessments and improved planning for critical projects. The critical issue was also picked up by her House seatmate as companion legislation, House Bill 1494, prime-sponsored by Rep. Tom Dent.

“This unique special purpose district is doing invaluable work for the people they serve, and this legislation will give them better tools to plan and improve engagement with the public,” said Warnick. “Under this proposal, Moses Lake’s irrigation and rehabilitation district will be able to continue its efforts to improve our community.”

Funding methods for the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District were challenged in court, forcing it to lose out on funds. Warnick’s proposal would rectify this calculation problem, allowing for a fairer assessment in line with constitutional requirements.

“The more transparent that government can be, the better,” Dent said. “I think our community sees the value in what the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District does to keep this natural resource clean and accessible for all. We want to support those efforts into the future in a fair and efficient way.”

If approved, MLIRD would be required to annually determine its monetary needs for rehabilitation operations. In addition, the district would have to provide notice of proposed assessments and hold equalization hearings similar to other special-purpose districts.

The measure also would limit the budget intended for rehabilitation purposes not to exceed $1 per $1,000 of the aggregate assessed value of all property in the district. Exceeding that amount requires authorization from electors in the district by a majority vote.

Warnick’s legislation was approved unanimously today by the state Senate and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.