OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers approved a deal Thursday to end a long-running water dispute that has brought rural construction to a standstill in many areas of the state, including Whatcom County.
Republicans and Democrats passed a measure Thursday night in the state House and Senate creating new rules for household wells, which are crucial for new development in areas where city water does not reach. A 2016 Supreme Court ruling in a Whatcom County case imposed near-impossible requirements on rural property owners and county planning departments. Some counties, including Whatcom, have temporarily stopped issuing permits for new projects requiring wells, creating uncertainty for lenders and raising the possibility that land values could plummet.
The Legislature’s fix to the Hirst decision gives a green light to new construction, said state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and ends a debate that has lasted a year. “It is unfortunate it has taken this long,” Ericksen said. “Household wells account for less than one-half of one percent of water usage in Washington, and pose no threat to water supply statewide.
“Although the new rules go further than necessary, it was the best deal we could get this year, and it will allow construction to proceed across Whatcom County and the entire state. We’ve brought relief to thousands of property owners who were threatened by Hirst, and that’s what counts.”