Lawmakers approve 2017-19 Capital Budget following passage of compromise “Hirst” water bill.

Jan 19, 2018

In a late-night session Thursday, the House and Senate passed a compromise bill (SB 6091) to permit drilling of new household water wells in rural areas that had been blocked by the 2016 state Supreme Court “Hirst” decision.

The court’s 6-3 ruling restricted new wells that might affect stream flows and impact water temperatures for fish. It also mandated counties to make their own, independent studies of water availability, instead of relying on state Department of Ecology data, before issuing new building permits. County officials said they lacked the resources to conduct such studies and consequently stopped issuing new building permits. That left rural property owners unable to build homes or develop their land.

Under the bill that passed, landowners in rural areas will now be able to drill household wells, while planners in local Water Resource Inventory Areas create new long-term water usage plans. Local governments can also rely on state Department of Ecology rules for determining water availability—as they were able to do before the  Supreme Court’s “Hirst” decision.

Water withdrawal for new wells will be set at 950 to 3,000 gallons per day, depending on the area. Landowners will be required to pay a $500 fee to access a domestic well.

According to a Friday news release, House Republican negotiators are calling the bill an overall success, one that will finally restore some certainty to rural families.

“We started this process with an urban state Supreme court dictating new water law across rural parts of the state with a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee. “With the rights of rural citizens and private property owners in mind, I believe we ended with an acceptable compromise that will help ensure citizens will be able to access water to realize the American Dream of owning a home; one that keeps housing affordable in rural Washington.”

The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.

A legislative solution to the problems created by the “Hirst” decision had been linked to approval of the 2017-19 Capital Budget since late in the 2017 session, when it passed the House but was not acted on by the Senate. Passage of the “Hirst” water bill cleared the way for approval Thursday night by both chambers of the Capital Budget (SB 6090) and the bonding authority bill needed to implement it (HB 1080).

The Capital Budget authorizes $4.2 billion in new capital projects for state agencies and institutions of higher education in the 2017-19 fiscal biennium This includes appropriations for the acquisition, construction, and repair of land, buildings, and other infrastructure improvements.

Funding for the Capital Budget is primarily secured through state general obligation bonds, with other funding derived from various dedicated taxes, fees, and state trust land revenues. HB 1080, which is on its way to the Governor along with SB 6090, authorizes the issuance of up to $2.9 billion in general obligation bonds that pledge the full faith, credit, and taxing power of the state toward debt service. It also authorizes the issuance of up to $300 million in general obligation bonds over fifteen years, beginning in the 2017-19 biennium, to finance watershed restoration and enhancement projects.

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