[3/6/17] Hirst Decision Debated Between House And Senate

Posted in Feature, Local Government & Meetings

During this year’s legislative session in Olympia, lawmakers have been debating what to do about a decision by the state Supreme Court on water rights and the use of domestic wells. The high court ruled in October said counties must ensure, independently of the state, that water is physically and legally available before issuing building permits in certain areas. After much debate between the House and Senate, which some lawmakers say isn’t over, the Senate approved a bill that would allow so-called permit-exempt wells to be used for development. Dan Langager has more on the legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision –

Supporters of Senate Bill 5239 say a “common sense” legislative fix was needed after the Hirst court decision prompted some counties to temporarily halt certain rural development and left hundreds of rural property owners in limbo. Opponents say the bill undercuts current state water law and allows development with little to no review of its impact on senior water right holders, including existing wells and water kept in streams for fish.

The chair of the Senate’s water-policy committee, Senator Judy Warnick of Moses Lake, said the high court’s decision would effectively halt development in many of Washington’s 39 counties, hitting rural areas the hardest.

0306147 HIRST WARNICK 1 – 0:19

“…that want to build a home.”

The current system favors a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ approach that could lead to wasting valuable water resources, Warnick said. Senate Bill 5239 protects irrigators’ water rights from relinquishment if the water allotment was not fully used due to conservation or efficiency efforts, so that agricultural water users are rewarded for their conservation efforts without the risk of losing their unused water rights.

The Senate approved the bill 28 to 21 through a mainly party-line vote.

0306147 HIRST WARNICK 2 – 0:18

“…done with the bill.”

Currently the House is having a much harder time moving forward with legislation aimed at the Hirst decision, said Representative Mike Steele of Chelan. He said something has to be done to get some relief for water rights holders in North Central Washington.

0306147 HIRST STEELE BITE – 0:27

“…across our district for sure.”

The 12th District’s other Representative Cary Condotta said he thinks the stall in their chamber is a political maneuver by Democrats in the House.

0306147 HIRST CONDOTTA BITE – 0:33

“…for some leverage.”

Warnick said she’s keeping on an eye on those debates and bills in the House related to the Hirst decision. She said not passing legislation would mean hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of lost economic activity for the state and potentially the loss of a person’s life savings.

0306147 HIRST WARNICK 3 – 0:14

“…be able to get there this year.”

Lawmakers in the House must now consider Warnick’s Senate bill and either pass it, sending it to the governor’s desk, or work to align one of their own proposals related to water rights and send it over to the Senate.