Future of rural Washington under attack

Longview, Aberdeen, Port Angeles and most other towns across the state — are you prepared for what’s to come if families can’t build in your communities because they can’t get water rights?

When the Supreme Court issued their opinion in the case Whatcom County vs. Hirst, it not only put the responsibility of determining the permitting for residential wells on the county, it set a precedent for how water rights would be handled statewide, threatening to halt all construction involving the use of residential wells.

While the intention was to protect fish, wildlife and recreation, small family wells account for less than 1 percent of Washington’s water consumption.

However, the impact to rural Washington will be devastating. Families will not be able to build homes on the land they’ve purchased, which will cause the property values to plummet and will undermine revenue collected to fulfill what the Supreme Court has ruled is our paramount duty — fully funding education.

We have heard testimony from people who were counting on building a home and now will lose everything because all the money they invested in their dream will be lost. How do you recover from that? How do you sell land that is effectively worthless for any kind of residential development? Where can families turn?

Sen. Warnick, R-Moses Lake, sponsored Senate Bill 5239 which would change the law so that regulations would revert back to what they were before the Hirst decision. It would protect Washington’s rural communities, including the workers and businesses that would suffer from the halt in construction. SB 5239 passed out of the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 28-21.

Unfortunately, the House Democrats refused to even hear the bill in committee, killing the bill before the House could vote on it. Why would they do that to our rural communities? Why would they hurt the families that occupy most of Washington state?





Details about the Hirst decision:

  • In late 2016, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling resulting from a challenge to rules in Whatcom County relating to the Growth Management Act.


  • The ruling turned decades of water law on its head by requiring local jurisdictions, such as counties, to make legal determinations on water availability before issuing a building permit, something the state Dept. of Ecology already had done.


  • Dissenters on the court noted, ““The majority’s decision hinges on an interpretation of RCW 19.27.097 that is unsupported by the plain language of the statute, precedent, or common sense.”


  • Counties and cities do not have the financial resources or technical expertise to make these judgements.


  • This effectively halted home building in rural parts of the state by requiring costly and duplicative studies to make legal determinations of water availability before a small, household well can be drilled.


  • When the 2017 legislative session began, the impacts of the decision became apparent, as counties and cities, did not know how to handle the decision. Counties took different approaches including building permit moratoriums, creating confusion.


  • The Senate Majority acted to address the problem. Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, introduced Senate Bill 5239, a bipartisan proposal to clarify the law and give certainty to property owners and local jurisdictions.


  • During public hearings on the proposed Hirst fix legislation, property owners from around the state pled for a solution, some spending their life’s savings to build a home on a property only to be told they couldn’t and facing the possibility that the property had lost its value.


  • The Senate passed E2SSB 5239 (An Act Relating to Ensuring that Water is Available to Support Development) on February 28, by a vote of 28-21.  The bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.


  • The House ANR Committee held a public hearing on the bill on March 28, one day before policy committee cutoff for bills from the opposite chamber.


  • On March 29 – cutoff – the House committee failed to vote on the bill, meaning that the bill did not move out of the committee according to the required legislative timeline for policy bills.


Click on any of the items below for communications on our efforts
to protect rural Washington’s future.


Where does the Hirst Fix stand as of March 31

Senate Bill 5239

Press release on passage of SB 5239

Sen. Judy Warnick’s testimony on the Hirst fix

Sen. Shelly Short discusses Hirst

Press Coverage

Legislature must find water-well solution – Spokesman Editorial

The Impact

“Hirst decision debated between House and Senate” – KOZI

“Some home building halted as counties respond to water-rights case” – Seattle Times

“High stakes battle under way over limited water in Washington’s rural areas” – Seattle Times

“State Senate passes bill to address Hirst water-rights decision” – Seattle Times

“Senate passes bill to address Hirst water-rights decision” – KING TV

“Fixing the Hirst problem” – The Daily News

“War of the Wells: Hirst Decision Draws Stealthy Demonstration to Washington State Capitol” – KUOW

“Mason builders affected by Supreme Court water ruling” – Kitsap Sun

“Spokane adopts emergency ordinance to address controversial Hirst water rights decision” – Spokesman Review

To learn more about the Hirst decision and how it is affecting the state, go to www.FixHirst.com.