Families across Washington win with deal on water-rights, capital budget

Jan 19, 2018

OLYMPIA…Marking the end of long and arduous negotiations, the Legislature today passed a bipartisan, bicameral solution to the Hirst water-rights decision, clearing the way for families to get permits to dig household wells and gain access to water. It also passed a capital budget worth more than $4 billion, including the bonds necessary to pay for it.


“This was a heavy lift. The Hirst fix and the capital budget affect thousands of Washington jobs and billions of dollars for Washington’s economy,” said Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “Families across our state deserve access to water and they deserve the projects in the capital budget. We were able to give them both.”


Substitute Senate Bill 6091, referred to as the “Hirst Fix,” passed the Senate 35-14 and the House 66-30, and now heads to the governor’s office to be signed into law.


“Everyone worked some very late nights to come to the compromise we passed tonight,” explained Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, caucus chair. “The expectations in this legislation are reasonable and I’m thankful for the legislators who stood up for the people of Washington. This is a win for Washington’s families.”


The new legislation:


  • Authorizes the use of new wells throughout the state – some new conditions may apply depending on the watershed.


  • Clarifies the relationship between local permitting authorities and the Department of Ecology to help provide for greater certainty for permit applicants going forward.


  • Establishes local planning committees to recommend stream-enhancement projects and other local standards in certain watersheds.


  • Creates a task force to make recommendations about finding ways to make water available for growth in municipalities and authorizes some pilot projects that will allow water rights to be granted


The capital budget for the 2017-19 biennium, worth $4.2 billion, passed the Senate unanimously and the House 95-1. Substitute Senate Bill 6090, includes more than $1 billion for K-12 school construction, renovation and modernization.


SSB 6090 also provides $300 million for the implementation of the fix for the Hirst decision and funds other Republican priorities such as mental health, clean water programs, and health care facilities. It also includes $860 million in appropriations for higher-education.


The bond bill, HB 1080, which is necessary to fund the capital budget, also passed both the House and the Senate, which also now awaits the governor’s signature.




Four times during the 2017 Legislative Session, the Senate passed a fix for the highly contentious Hirst court decision that gave responsibility for granting water rights on household wells to counties rather than the Department of Ecology. Since the counties were not prepared to handle the task, some stopped giving building permits that would have required a well for water access.


As a result, many families saw the value of their land plummet and lost everything as they waited in vain for a permit. Republicans recognized the effect the Hirst decision was having on suburban and rural families statewide and wanted a solution before voting on the capital budget, especially because hundreds of millions of dollars were earmarked in the capital budget for a Hirst fix. It had to be “Hirst first.”


Democrats in the House of Representatives ignored the problem at first and later refused to allow a vote on the legislation in their chamber. Only after Republicans announced they would not pass the bonds for a capital budget until a Hirst solution was signed by the governor did the House Democrats give the issue the attention it required.


Negotiations continued into the 2018 Legislative Session, which started Jan. 8.