A Hirst Solution

Finally, after over a year of furious fighting, we have a Hirst solution. SB 6091 was fast tracked and approved as law January 19, 2018. Is it a great solution? No. What SB 6091 does is allows the people of Washington, especially those in rural communities, to move forward. Those elected officials that have worked so hard towards a Hirst solution, inclusive of Senator Judy Warnick, agree that this is not the resolution that they had hoped to see, but this bill purports to ensure that water is available to support development, allowing said development to move forward. One of the concerns I have heard about this bill, is whether those with an exempt well need to comply with the new law. Any permit-exempt well constructed prior to the effective date of the bill is deemed to have an adequate supply of water, meaning, in essence, it is grandfathered in. The bill does not address other exempt well uses, meaning livestock and other uses OTHER than home building was excluded. To help readers out, I am going to summarize what I feel are the pertinent parts of the bill. The bill itself requires applicants of a building permit to prove the adequacy of available potable water. Buildings that do not require potable water are exempt from the provisions of the bill, at least for now. That evidence may take the form of a water right, a letter from a water purveyor, or another form sufficiently verifying water. There are more strenuous requirements on proposed subdivisions and plats. There are 62 watersheds in Washington which are referred to as Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA). Each WRIA has been given a distinct geographical area on the Washington state map based on the watershed itself and a number. The WRIA map can be found by googling WRIA map, a government website will come up with a color coded map showing the Washington WRIAs. It is actually very interesting to review the map and understand your WRIA. I could probably write an entire article on WRIAs and the information we should all know about them, but that digresses off of the topic at hand. Of the WRIAs, 41 are not impacted by the SB 6091. Franklin County, where I live, is one of those areas. Those 41 WRIAs have no increased fees, no gallon limitations, and no mitigation requirements. The remaining WRIAs have restrictions to allow for a new well and in some cases, the limitations are still in the works. Some of those restrictions include applicants paying a $500.00 fee to the permitting authority. Applicants being limited to a maximum annual average withdrawal of 3000 gallons per day per connection (the previous exempt well statute was 5000 gallons) or 950 gallons with a potential restriction to 350 gallons in drought years for some WRIAs. . Specific WRIAs will be required to adopt a watershed plan, and the department is required to establish a watershed restoration and enhancement committee. The bill goes on to list the entities that will be invited to participate on said watershed restoration and enhancement committee. Said plans must come up with mitigation action to combat the negative impacts that exempt wells have on instream flow requirements by June 30, 2021. This bill also requires the department to begin two pilot projects to measure water use from all new groundwater withdrawals for exempt wells. This pilot project is to determine the overall feasibility of measuring water use for all new groundwater withdrawals. This bill requires the department to purchase meters to be used in the pilot project. The pilot project is to take place in the Dungeness water rule, WRIA 18, and the area in which the Kittitas County water bank program operates within WRIA 39. Reading between the lines, DOE wants to meter all water within their jurisdiction, with this being the first step to see if it is feasible due to the complexity of trying to meter all of the exempt wells in this state. Under the bill the department is required to submit a report to the legislature by December 31, 2020 and a subsequent report on December 31, 2027 to effectively report on how the bill is dealing with exempt well withdrawals.

The bottom line is that it is very important for individuals to understand what WRIA that they own land in and how that WRIA is impacted by SB 6091. The tools are available for you to gather the information needed. Water is too important of a resource to ignore the impacts that SB 6091 may have on you as a land owner. This Hirst solution was needed and is necessary to allow development in rural Washington, but is not the fix that those of us in ag were hoping to achieve. This solution is still viewed as a positive and those that worked towards this bill needed to be thanked for their hard work and dedication.