– On January 19, 2018, the State Legislature passed Senate Bill 6091 (ESSB 6091
) providing counties with mandates in moving forward with the Whatcom vs. Hirst “Hirst” decision. The Hirst decision is an October 2016 state Supreme Court decision imposing restrictions to water rights and availability.
Senate Bill 6091 allows counties to refer to the Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) adopted instream flow rules to meet Growth Management Act requirements for protecting surface and groundwater. This removes the obligation for the County to develop independent processes to assess water availability in alignment with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.
The bill requires all new permit-exempt domestic groundwater withdrawals in Thurston County to pay a fee and limits water use below the previous maximum amount of 5,000 gallons/day. The new water use limits vary depending on specific areas of the County.
To comply with the law, the County must record water usage restrictions for all new permit-exempt wells on property titles, pay a fee for each new permit, track the number of permits and subdivision approvals, and identify representation for watershed planning groups.
The new law currently requires a $500 permit fee for each new permit issued. The County must collect the fees and set aside $350 to be transferred to Ecology. The remaining $150 is intended to cover the County’s administrative costs incurred while performing the recording and tracking activities reflected in the new law.
Today, the Board of County Commissioners approved the $500 fee to be part of the building permit process. The County will collect the $500 permit fee until December 31, 2018, and reevaluate, based on cost data collected during 2018, for the following years.
The County will continue to monitor any future actions regarding the Hirst Decision.
What is the Hirst Decision?
The Hirst decision determined that local governments were required to make a specific decision regarding the water for proposed development projects. Local governments could not rely on Ecology’s Exempt Well rule for the determination of water availability under the requirements of the Comprehensive Plan.