Details about the Hirst decision

Jul 5, 2017

  • 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.