In October 2016 the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, in what is known as the Hirst case, that forces local and county governments to verify themselves whether water is available for a new household well to support a building-permit application. The decision meant local and county governments could no longer rely on Department of Ecology data about water availability. Property owners are now having to spend thousands of dollars on studies with no guarantee that a permit to install a well will be issued. The decision ended a long-accepted practice and has resulted in the sharp decline of development in rural counties. A legislative remedy approved by the Senate was “killed” by the House majority recently, with barely two weeks left in the regular 2017 legislative session.
In a press conference this week, Gov. Jay Inslee said rural water-well issues shouldn’t be a distraction for lawmakers. Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, offered this response:
“The Hirst decision threatens to destroy economies in rural Washington. That is not a distraction. Development in my district is grinding to a halt. Plummeting property values will only make funding education in rural districts that much harder. Finding a Hirst fix that works is critical to ensuring stable funding for our education system.
“Our obligation to fully fund education does not exist in a vacuum. Many policy decisions we make will affect our ability to fund basic education in this state. I encourage Governor Inslee to avoid being distracted by national politics and work with us to find a Hirst solution that will help us amply fund basic education, protect residential water rights and ensure the stability of rural economies for years to come.
“As legislators, we are accustomed to working on a myriad of issues at the same time. I am confident that we can accomplish both education-funding reform and a remedy for the Hirst ruling.”