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.

More in Northwest

Bill targets sexual health curriculum in Washington schools

Senate Bill 5395 is co-sponsored by 17 Democratic representatives and introduced by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way.

According to King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) annual report, Seattle had the highest rate of people using services at 36 percent of the total, followed by 31 percent from South King County, 18 percent from the greater Eastside, and 7 percent from north county including Shoreline.
Study shows King County’s treatment funding is making progress

A document on the county’s .1 percent health sales tax was accepted Wednesday by the county council.

Children’s play area at Seadrunar. Photo by Lauren Davis via Facebook
Seedy side of Seadrunar: Drug rehab center accused of neglect, exploitation

Public records reveal that Seattle facility was accused of neglecting children and clients in its care.

Russell Wilson and Ciara spoke Friday at the Tukwila Library to Foster students and other attendees as their Why Not You Foundation joined forces with the King County Library System and JPMorgan Chase to launch the DREAM BIG: Anything is Possible campaign. Photo by Kayse Angel
Russell Wilson and Ciara launch DREAM BIG campaign

Partnership with King County libraries dovetails with scholarship program for local students.

Somali community faces SeaTac displacement

Proposed redevelopment threatens the heart of the Somali business community.

Brandi Carlile needs more mantle space after taking winning three Grammys on Sunday night.
Seattle cleans up at Grammys

Brandi Carlile, Seattle Symphony, and Chris Cornell combine to take home six awards.

Legislation targets missing and murdered indigenous women epidemic

Savanna’s Act co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Washington ranks among highest in nation

OfferUp founder Nick Huzar makes customer safety a core pillar

Bellevue-based CEO wanted a simpler solution to his own problems

Exit poll indicates Washington voters still support climate change action

State environmental organizations’ poll points to continuing support for carbon-reducing measures.

Most Read