Eric Hirst playing the Sax while Rural Dreams Burn.


Only 11 days into the session the legislature sends a Hirst Fix to the Governor along with a 4 Billion Capital Budget (that was held up until Hirst action could be taken).  The Fix and the Budget bill Passed about 8:00 PM on January 18th.

From Rep Vince Buys:

Lots of people want to know the details of the Hirst fix. Here’s a simplified breakdown for those of us in Whatcom County.

– existing wells
you are grandfathered under the pre-Hirst 5000gal/day exempt-well statute.

– new wells
– $500 fee
– 3000gal/day annual average daily consumption per domestic hookup, indoor and outdoor use
– unlimited stockwatering
– 5000gal/day commercial
– record amounts on title

-behind the scene
– WRIA 1 planning unit reconvenes, Lummi and Nooksack tribes are invited to participate.
– Initiating Governments (County, Bellingham, PUD) review existing watershed plan to make sure it takes into consideration projected impacts of exempt well uses over next 20 years
– implement plan which was developed with broad stakeholder involvement
– $20 million available statewide each year for next 15 years for projects to implement plans

note: different watersheds may have varying rules. The above is applicable to the Nooksack, WRIA 1, and 6 other WRIAs (1, 11, 22, 23, 49, 55, 59)”

From the Fourth Corner:

It is definitely a more bureaucratic solution to building and well permits but does now allow the option to supply water on land people own.  According to the Whatcom County Assessor over 1100 Properties were devalued because of the initial Supreme Court Decision.


New: 2018 Senate Hirst Bill SB 6091 here.

Here is the Summary of the Bill as close to passed as the Fourth Corner could get:

Details are still not totally available but a $500.00 fee will apply for new well permits. Each Water Resource Inventory Area..(WRIA)( there are 62 WRIA’s) can have different needs.

This Capital Press article gives a report on some of the options that were decided on last night. Read the article here. Scroll down the page and click on the article.



Preparing for Rural Water Taxes

Click Here for Summary of original bill thanks to Roger Almskaar and Whatcom CAPR for this information from Senator Ericksen’s office.

The Senate has changed the original bill to Substitute Senate Bill 6091:  A great synopsis and changes made to the original can be seen here.  This bill has been referred to Rules Committee for further action.

Senator Ericksen notes

“I will be working to make it more fair and equitable for individuals who own property. Making it clear that meters are not allowed. I will offer an amendment that outside water use cannot be prohibited.” and more to come…


Here are several views on how to handle the Wells of Rural Land Owners.

Jan 10th Opinion piece on Hirst by State Legislators. Thanks to Vince Buys for his input to the Fourth Corner

State Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, is the ranking member on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the House Appropriations and the House Environment committees.

State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, is the assistant ranking member on the House Business and Financial Services Committee. He also serves on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the House Capital Budget Committee.


With much recent attention on the state Supreme Court case Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, often called Hirst, we would like the opportunity to express the views of those affected the most: Those of us who live in and represent rural areas of our state.

The court issued a decision requiring counties to do something the Department of Ecology (DOE) is legally required to do, and now people cannot drill wells on private property that is, by statute, permit exempt. These wells are permit exempt because they impact less than 1 percent of all water consumed.

In fact, if you turned off the faucet to every permit-exempt well in the state today, the impact to instream flows would be imperceptible, according to the head of DOE.

If you’re concerned about having enough water for fish — which we believe there is — why would you go after something with immeasurable impact?

Keep in mind the state provides millions of dollars annually for projects that improve instream flows as well as hundreds of millions in habitat restoration for fish. This important detail was not a factor in the court’s decision but is relevant in analyzing whether environmental impacts are actually being addressed.

The Hirst decision was flawed from the beginning.

It is based on an assumption that all groundwater is linked to surface water
despite ample scientific proof of variances in watersheds, geography, aquifers and
historic stream and river beds.

It pits fish against families by using flawed data about historic instream flows READ MORE HERE…

 Democrats from Bothell and Parkland Give their opinion on the Hirst decision.

State Rep. Derek Stanford is a Democrat from Bothell representing the 1st Legislative District. State Rep. David Sawyer is a Democrat from Parkland representing the 29th Legislative District.

Here is their view :Dec 14th Democrats Seattle Times editorial Comments

Whatcom County Councilman Satpal Sidhu also has his view in with what may be the majority opinion on our County Council… Metering and further study before people can use their property. Thanks to Councilman Sidhu for the input to the Fourth Corner.

   2018 The Year of Water for Whatcom County     Satpal S. Sidhu, Whatcom County Councilmember District 2  January 1, 2018

“In Whatcom County, we do not have water deficit, we have trust deficit”, Satpal Sidhu,
candidate for 42nd State Rep 2014. I still believe this is true. The only idea our state
delegation has put forth so far is “legislative fix” as the cure all solution to Whatcom County’s water issues. The proposed legislative fix by either party is a veiled effort to kick the can down the road. While, the “fix” is now a party line win or lose at the State Legislature, it will be a hit-or-miss relief for all 39 counties. If it was so easy, it would have been solved long time ago. Hard problems need hard work, not escape routes. Each County has unique water resources, water needs of agriculture, fish habitat, domestic, commercial, industrial, natural habitat, forestry, tribal treaties, urban development, and future growth needs. The water quality affects not only drinking water and aquaculture, but also our future. This is not partisan issue.

More than two decades ago, WRIA 1 Planning Unit developed plan to manage our water, but the vested interests of the past for their own reasons kept on kicking the can down the road. Today, many residents are hurting because of that. I rather see direct say by local citizens in our water use rules than a one-size-fits-all decision imposed by legislature or courts.

In the October 2017 surface water work session, the planning unit challenged the County Council to assume leadership role to re-start the implementation process for the Planning Unit Recommendation from 2005. My suggestion to each of the caucuses was to renew their pledge by: 1) accepting we have a water problem and each caucus / stakeholder wants to be part of the local solutions. 2) each caucus shall define three things which are
deal breakers for them and rest is negotiable. 3) pledge to negotiate in good faith and not rush to courts to declare winners and loser.

The exempt well restrictions have been the most harsh and visible hardships on the residents. This segment of water users has insignificant contribution to cause low instream flows in our County. We have a seasonal fourmonth (May-August) issue of competing water needs for irrigation, fish habitat, domestic, commercial, industrial water use and other needs. This issue gets more acute when there is low snowpack from previous winter and low precipitation during dry hot summer months.

Looking at domestic water use, more than 80 percent of Whatcom County’s 215,000 residents obtain their drinking water from public water systems that are subject to the Coordinated Water System Plan. The remaining rural population, approximately 42,000 people, rely on permitted exempt wells for domestic water. Most of these people are on septic systems and their consumptive water use is more like 10 gallons per day per person. And this segment of water users is facing most financial hardships for not being able to build a home or obtain financing.

However, all exempt well owners have the right to draw 5,000 gallons per day, which complicates the whole water math. This arbitrary number of 5,000 gallons per day right does not make any sense and must be on the table for discussion. If the exempt well owners making an argument about their very low consumptive water use, then they need to re-examine this unrealistic daily water use right. I have few suggestions for current and future residential exempt well owners:

1. The exempt well water right be reduced to 500 gallons per day, with a caveat that any such user can obtain additional 500 gallons per day right to use by proving a genuine need under an established criterion. Any such additional need must be renewed every 5 years proving that need still exists.
2. All domestic exempt well users shall meter their water consumption, current and future.
3. Invite PUD to take lead on residential water supply in rural areas offering:
a. Support to local Water Associations who need additional water rights.
Continue by clicking here…

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