Legislature will re-attempt their New Year’s resolution by delivering Hirst Fix

Jan 8, 2018

With the New Year, we turn our thoughts to our resolutions, but by the second week of February most of fail to keep our new fitness routines.

Fitness resolutions are not the only ones to meet an early demise. In 2017, a fix for the residential water crisis created by the Hirst ruling also went the way of most resolutions - leaving families and rural communities in financial hardship because environmental activists pushed for inequitable authority in rural community planning.

When the Hirst decision was issued on October 6, 2016, effectively banning permit exempt wells, the legislature looked to for a fix. Throughout 2017, multiple Hirst solutions were proposed but no compromise was reached. A bill with bipartisan support did emerge, but was blocked from a vote by House Democratic leadership. By July 20, negotiations on a compromise crumbled and the legislature left Olympia without a Hirst solution or a capital budget.

We have previously demonstrated that although both the capital budget and Hirst are important, the job loss due to the capital budget was 0.1% of that due to the Hirst decision. So, with rural jobs and economies at stake, our legislature must once again set a New Year’s resolution of obtaining a Hirst fix.

Today, the Legislature begins the 2018 session, and many are waiting to see what elected officials will choose in terms of a capital budget and the Hirst decision.

We have some hint as to how things may play out. The plan outlined by Democrats called for a limit of 350 gallons per day, a reduction from 5,000 gallons per day before the ruling. Their proposal also creates a $1,500 fee on new wells and would position the state for future metering of wells.

Senator Judy Warnick sponsored the prime Hirst legislation in 2017 and said, “Not those three things” regarding the Democrat’s 2018 plan which included a reduction in water use, a fee, and setting the stage for metering.

Additionally, the proposed Senate Bill 3394 would:

  • “Establish watershed restoration and enhancement committees in each watershed with an instream flow rule adopted or amended before 2000.”
  • Create “a joint legislative task force on water resource mitigation…to make recommendations to the legislature on the necessary authority in Title 90 RCW for the department of ecology to authorize mitigation…”
  • “Appropriate two hundred million dollars for projects to achieve the goals of this act until January 1, 2028. The department of ecology is directed to implement a program to restore and enhance stream flows by fulfilling obligations under this act…” (A vague description of how funds will actually be used to improve stream flows and salmon populations.)
    • In 2017, Republicans offered $20 million in the capital budget in exchange for a Hirst fix. Senate Bill 3394 proposes the equivalent of $40 million per biennium.

Despite Senate Bill 3394’s large requests, some are hoping it can be a starting point for negotiation - more so than the Democrat’s 2017 proposal, which just kicked the “Hirst can” down the road until December 31, 2018.

Republican lawmakers have promised to hold strong for a fair Hirst solution. Since the capital budget needs a 60% majority to pass, Republicans can continue to tie agreement to Hirst with passage of the capital budget. Democrats only lead in both chambers by a slim majority.

Only time will tell if Democrats and Republicans can come to a resolution on 2018’s New Year’s resolution.