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

Fedor Osipov, 15, flips into Steel Lake in Federal Way during last year's heatwave on June 28, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Heatwave expected to hit King County

Temperatures will likely reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII: Examining Auburn police officer’s grim tattoos

Episode 5 in special podcast series that explores Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

t
Sound Transit Board approves Julie Timm as new CEO at $375,000 per year

She replaces Peter Rogoff who left in May after board voted to replace him

t
Statewide task force to tackle organized retail crime rings

Group brings law enforcement, prosecutors, retailers together to combat growing problem

Photo courtesy of King County.
Officials urge caution when swimming this summer

Cold spring temperatures and larger than normal snowpack have created dangerous conditions

A semiautomatic handgun with a safety cable lock that prevents loading ammunition. (Sound Publishing file photo)
Large-capacity ammo magazine sales ban starts soon in Washington

Starting July 1, a 10-round capacity becomes the limit for sales. Meanwhile, “there is a rush on magazine purchasing.”

t
Oak Harbor man arrested on $1 million bail for alleged hate crime

Yelled threat at Whidbey Island woman; reportedly posted online comments about killing gay people

At Dash Point on June 16, 2022. Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
All that the tides reveal: Puget Sound’s hidden intertidal world

Exploring King County beaches during the lowest tide in the last 13 years.

Washington State Capitol Building. File photo
Foes of state’s capital gains tax drop plans for initiative

I-1929 sponsors say they are confident a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax will be successful.

Most Read