Save household wells!

May 2: Senate passes Hirst bill for second time

For the second time, the Senate voted for a bill that would protect the right of rural property owners to drill household wells. This vote demonstrates the Senate’s determination to see the issue resolved before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

The Senate vote keeps Senate Bill 5239 alive for further consideration during our current special session. The bill overturns the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision last fall imposing enormous burdens on rural property owners who need to tap groundwater in order to obtain building permits and develop their land. Whatcom County officials also have balked at these new requirements, imposing a six-month moratorium on new building permits dependent on wells.

The House so far has refused to take action. The bill originally was passed by the Senate in February, but it was bottled up in a House committee and did not receive a vote before our regular session ended April 23.

We have said from the start of our session that protection for property owners is a top priority for the Senate. This vote shows we are determined to see it through.


Last October the state Supreme Court issued a ruling in a Whatcom County water case that overturned state statutes and decades of water law. The Legislature intended for rural property owners to be able to drill small household-sized wells without obtaining water rights permits. But the court ruling imposes costly new burdens on property owners and local governments and threatens property rights statewide.

If the decision in the Hirst case is allowed to stand, it will have a far-reaching effect on the state’s rural economy, property values, housing costs and property taxes. The Senate’s response has been SB 5239, which restores the traditional balance between state and local governments for managing water and allows property owners to develop their land.


Here are the key pieces of legislation advanced this year in the interest of a sensible solution.

Senate proposal:

  • Senate Bill 5239 – comprehensive fix to problem — cosponsors include Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Passed for second time by the state Senate May 2, keeping the issue alive during Legislature’s special session.

House proposals:

  • House Bill 1459 – would have required state and local governments to consider actual groundwater impact — sponsored by Vincent Buys, R-Lynden; co-sponsors included Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden. Died in House committee.
  • House Bill 1460would have made water rights transfers easier – sponsored by Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, co-sponsors included Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden. Died in House committee.
  • House Bill 1348 – would have given users first priority for water — co-sponsors included Vincent Buys, R-Lynden. Died in House committee.
  • House Bill 1349 – would have declared small wells have minimal impact — co-sponsors included Vincent Buys, R-Lynden. Died in House committee.
  • House Bill 1382 – would have prohibited denial of small-well permits without good reason — co-sponsors included Vincent Buys, R-Lynden. Died in House committee.

Earlier actions:

March 29: Senate fix denied vote in House committee

A Senate fix to the state’s household-well crisis failed to receive a vote in a House committee as a key deadline passed, but the issue remains alive as long as the Legislature remains in session.

The decision was a big disappointment for those of us who had made it a priority to fix last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hirst case. We will continue to work for a solution this year, and remain open to compromise. But no compromise should violate the right of property owners to develop their land.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee chose not to take a vote Wednesday on Senate Bill 5239, which would restore the state’s traditional water law. Wednesday was a deadline for House policy committees to pass Senate bills.

Feb. 28: Bill saving household wells passes Senate

To see video of debate, click here.

A bill protecting the rights of property owners to drill wells and build on their own land passed the full Senate Tuesday night. Our plan, Senate Bill 5239, would restore the rules that existed before a state Supreme Court decision last fall imposed enormous burdens on rural landowners who seek building permits. The Senate stood up for property owners and property rights with a vote of 28-21. Now it’s up to the state House to do the same.

To see video, click here.



See my speech: The household-well issue has been one of my top priorities since the session began. In my floor speech, I talked about the frustration of thousands of property owners who purchased land with the understanding they would be able to build.

Feb. 23: Senate plan to save household wells moves forward

To watch this vote, click here.

The Senate’s plan to save household wells received an important OK Thursday from the Senate Ways and Means Committee. There’s just one more stop, the Senate Rules Committee, before the bill receives a vote on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 5239 restores the right of rural property owners to develop small, family-sized wells without enormous bureaucratic burdens.

Feb. 21: Hearing makes compelling case for household wells, property owners

The Senate’s effort to save household wells was highlighted at a hearing Feb. 21 before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Property owners from Whatcom County and elsewhere said they have been devastated by the Supreme Court’s decision last fall that took away their right to drill wells — and with it, their right to build.
You can see the full hearing by clicking here. For highlights, click on links below.


Sue Croft, Bellingham

“We purchased a piece of property and closed in September. …We were ready to go for a building permit, and then the Hirst decision came down Oct. 6. …Now we have a pretty much worthless piece of property.”



Glen Morgan, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights

“There are tens of thousands of people who don’t even know yet that they’ve been harmed.”




Zach Nutting, Whatcom County

“I am begging you, literally begging you to pass this bill. I deserve to build the house I set out [to build].”



Laura Berg, Washington State Association of Counties

Skagit County’s experience:

— $20 million in lost property value 

$270,000 in property taxes shifted to other taxpayers

$157 million in lost construction

“We think this is coming to a county near you.”