March 29: Senate fix denied action 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 this year’s 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.
WHAT IS HIRST?
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.
PROTECTING PROPERTY RIGHTS:
Here are the key pieces of legislation advanced this year in the interest of a sensible solution.
- Senate Bill 5239 – comprehensive fix to problem — cosponsors include Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
Passed full Senate Feb. 28, 28-21. Did not receive vote in House committee before a March 29 deadline.
- 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 1460 – would 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.
Feb. 28: Bill saving household wells passes Senate
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.
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
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.
“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.”
“There are tens of thousands of people who don’t even know yet that they’ve been harmed.”
“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.”