On January 18, 2018, the Washington State Legislature finally passed a bill that many Washington residents and landowners have been anxiously hoping to see for months. A Hirst agreement was finally passed, which references the 2016 Washington State Supreme Court decision in favor of Eric Hirst. He successfully sued Whatcom County in an effort to challenge approval of new private wells on rural land.
Back in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that individual counties, not the Department of Ecology, should be held responsible to determine if adequate water quality and quantity existed before a new well was approved. This created an enormous issue throughout the state since most counties lack the money, resources, and staff to make such critical decisions.
The expenses were ultimately passed onto rural landowners, who were forced to either afford to pay a hydrologist to perform a full study of their watershed or surrender the productive use of their land for the foreseeable future. A full moratorium on well drilling on rural Washington land was implemented as a result. Senators have been pushing for legislation to resolve the moratorium, especially considering that the moratorium was expected to cause a loss of $7 million in economic activity.
According to the Whatcom County Executive’s Office, “the bill provides a solution for landowners that allow for building permits to be issued using new permit-exempt wells, allows for Counties to rely on Ecology rules for water resources, and includes appropriation of millions of dollars for watershed projects to enhance stream flows and fish habitats.”
Though the entire issue of the moratorium is extremely complicated and compromises were required, the new Hirst Agreement allows for many steps of progress. Now, new exempt wells can use up to 3,000 gallons of water per day after paying a $500 fee. The Department of Ecology is now also required to work with Whatcom County and other government members of the Watershed Management Board in order to update the watershed plan.
The bottom line is that property owners can now move forward using exempt wells for building permits in rural areas. Many of the threats originally created by the Hirst decision have been sidestepped, but now legislators only have until February of 2019 to reach consensus on a long-term plan.
The team at Aquatech Well Drilling and Pumps has been watching this moratorium carefully. If you have any questions regarding your existing well or plans for a new well, reach out to AquaTech at (360) 474-7980 for the help and support you need.