A worker uses a large wrench to screw on a drill casing during the operation of a water well drill rig. Photo by Erika Mitchell

A worker uses a large wrench to screw on a drill casing during the operation of a water well drill rig. Photo by Erika Mitchell

Governor signs bill to settle water-use dispute

The bill allows for limited drilling of new wells and also limits water withdrawals in new wells.

One of the year’s most important legislative battles in Washington state came to a surprisingly quick conclusion Thursday evening when a water-use bill passed both chambers and was sign by Gov. Jay Inslee.

In 2016, the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision essentially halted development across the state when it determined that counties were not adequately examining impacts on stream and river flow levels.

The decision weighed heavily on last year’s legislative session when Republicans refused to reach an agreement on a state capital budget until Democrats could devise an appropriate Hirst fix. The capital budget pays for state-funded development, and the stalemate put a delay to a number of projects across Washington, including efforts to improve schools.

Inslee and party leaders were vocal heading into this year’s session that solving the Hirst/capital budget issue was a major priority, and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said on TVW’s Inside Olympia program that a fix was agreed upon Wednesday night when leaders from each chamber met with the governor.

“I appreciate that the complexity of this issue required several months of negotiations by many legislators,” Inslee said Thursday night in a press release. “While far from perfect, this bill helps protect water resources while providing water for families in rural Washington.”

Exempt from the legislation is Skagit County, at the request of tribes that are already working on new water rules in the area, according to Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. The Yakima and Dungeness watersheds also have other requirements not addressed in the bill.

Van De Wege, the author of the bill, said a December work session provided much of its framework. With other proposed Hirst fixes floating up from both parties in the House and Senate, Van De Wege said he never imagined his bill would be the one to bring the Hirst issue to a close.

The Hirst bill allows for limited drilling of new wells, each of which would require a $500 fee from landowners. Local work groups will work with the Department of Ecology to establish water-use guidelines for the next 20 years.

The bill also limits water withdrawals in new wells to 3,000 gallons per day in less crowded areas compared to 950 gallons per day in watersheds that are densely populated.

The bill passed in the Senate with a 35-14 vote, before immediately making its way to the House, who passed it 66-30. A capital budget bill also passed both houses, and the governor signed both bills into law early on Friday afternoon.

Opposition came from senators Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley, who urged no votes from the Senate because of the bill’s exclusion of Skagit County, which they both represent.

“We’re on a slippery slope,” Wagoner said. “I believe that supporters of property rights and property owners will regret this bill.”

“I wish there had been something done for Skagit so I could vote yes, because the rest of the work of this bill is good,” Bailey said. “But remember, you’ve got friends and neighbors that this bill does not help.”

Also in opposition were Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who argued that the Hirst fix does nothing for many of Washington state’s tribes, who hold treaty-established senior water rights.

The tribes, McCoy said, “have tried to work with others to come to a reasonable solution… In my opinion they were ignored.”

“The right to take fish at usual and accustomed places is guaranteed to the tribes of Washington under the treaties of 1855,” Pollet said. “Unfortunately, the state will continue a long line of ignoring sovereign rights.”

Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, said that while he is not happy with every aspect of the bill, the cooperation that went into its passage is more important.

“We’re here to lead, so I’m asking for a yes vote,” he said. “Let’s get Washington working again.”

Inslee similarly acknowledged that to him the Hirst fix is not perfect, and he expressed concerns about future environmental factors.

“Despite this positive step, pressuress on stream flows and salmon will continue to mount in the face of climate change and growing demand for water,” the governor said. “We must build upon this effort to meet those challenges far into the future and continue to work collaboratively to protect this valuable resource.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Northwest

Elaine Simons, former foster mother of Jesse Sarey, addresses a crowd outside the Maleng Regional Justice Center on Aug. 24, 2020, moments after Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson was formally charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Sarey in front of a north Auburn convenience store. File photo
Supreme Court rules officers can be compelled to testify about killings

In a joint lawsuit against King County, the Washington State Supreme Court… Continue reading

Harvey Page
Sheriff’s office issues SILVER alert for missing Shoreline senior citizen

The King County Sheriff’s Office has issued a SILVER alert for 75-year-old… Continue reading

Photo courtesy WSDOT.
Transportation Commission wants your help naming next ferry

Construction of a new, hybrid electric Olympic Class ferry is expected to… Continue reading

Photo courtesy WSDOT
Traffic alerts | July 22

All lanes of SR 99 northbound and southbound at the 1st Avenue… Continue reading

Photo courtesy WSDOE.
Single-use plastic bag ban begins Oct. 1 in Washington

Washingtonians will begin to see fewer plastic bags littering the state’s roadsides,… Continue reading

Courtesy photo WSDOT,
TRAFFIC ALERT

I-90 Westbound, 7:37 a.m. : On the I-90 westbound on-ramp from East… Continue reading

Here is damage to the windshield of one of the vehicles struck in the Tuesday, July 20 debris-throwing incident.
Troopers arrest 41-year-old Seattle man for throwing debris into traffic

Troopers responded to reports of rocks/debris being thrown at cars on WB… Continue reading

infographic created by Coltura
Study suggests that the top 10 percent of gasoline-using drivers consume one-third of all the gas

Researchers believe converting “gasoline superusers” is an important factor in meeting climate goals

Auburn Reporter Photo
Residential migration on the uptick as COVID eases

After sheltering-in-place throughout much of 2020, residential migration has come roaring back… Continue reading

Most Read