County quickly adapts to changes in state well-water rules

Planners say they’re ready to help property owners with domestic drilling permits.

EVERETT — After state lawmakers earlier this year clarified well-drilling rules for rural development, Snohomish County tried to adapt quickly.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a fix to the Hirst case Jan. 19. County employees were soon ready to process building permits under the state’s new rules for exempt wells.

“Within a week we had rolled it out,” deputy county planning director Mike McCrary said.

The Hirst decision upended building rules on rural properties throughout the state. The 2016 Supreme Court ruling in a Whatcom County case meant that counties could no longer rely on the state Department of Ecology to determine whether a property had access to enough water — legally and physically — for a new well.

It applied to domestic wells, which are allowed to use a certain amount of water per day without first obtaining a water availability certificate. The rules are intended to protect other well users and salmon habitat.

Until the state resolved the Hirst impasse, each county had to come up with its own system for predicting impacts on nearby streams and existing wells. They took different approaches.

Whatcom imposed moratoriums on new rural developments that relied on domestic wells.

Snohomish County, in contrast, continued to process building permits on those properties. Applicants, however, had to sign a form acknowledging that water access was not guaranteed, even if a building permit was issued.

Whatever action county government took, property owners still may not have been able to drill a well on their property. And without water, many never could have secured a certificate of occupancy for new buildings.

“It had the same effect as a moratorium,” said Mike Pattison, a lobbyist for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Snohomish County processed an estimated 300 permits that would have required an acknowledgement.

“We weren’t holding up the building permits, but we were telling customers, ‘This is something you need to know,’” McCrary said. “We had a lot of customers out there who were depending on exempt wells for their water availability.”

Under the new system, Snohomish County will no longer make people sign an acknowledgement form.

People applying for building permits on exempt-well properties must demonstrate that they have an adequate supply of potable water. Typically, that would mean documentation from an approved water purveyor, the Department of Ecology or the Snohomish Health District.

The new rules for exempt wells vary according to the Water Resource Inventory Area, or WRIA, where they are located. Those areas generally correspond to river basins.

The new state rules impose stricter water use limits and higher fees in some areas. Existing exempt wells are not impacted.

Environmentalists and tribal governments have criticized the state’s Hirst resolution. They say it fails to adequately protect other water users or salmon, especially in basins where water levels are already declining.

The building community, which lobbied for the state to resolve the impasse, was grateful for Snohomish County’s swift reaction.

“A lot of our members are very relieved at the Hirst decision. There were a lot of projects pending and those were at risk of dying if you wait too long,” said the Master Builders’ Pattison. “The county’s quick turnaround on assisting customers impacted by the water-well issue is extremely impressive.”

Thousands of building lots in Snohomish and Skagit counties were left in limbo prior to last month’s resolution, Pattison said. An exact number is impossible to calculate as each parcel must be reviewed individually.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald Twitter: @NWhaglund.

More info

For more information on Snohomish County’s process relating to well water and building permits, see:—-Exempt-Well-Information.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Monroe High School (Monroe School District)
Monroe High School teacher accused of sexual misconduct, put on leave

Few details were not available Thursday afternoon. Police were seeking information from the public.

After 10 months, police make arrest in fatal Everett shooting

Police believe Malik “Capone” Fulson killed Joseph Haderlie, 27, in April 2023 outside an apartment complex on Casino Road.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

Ryan Rafter appears in court for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Everett father

In April 2022, Ryan Rafter, 42, shot Christopher Buck, 29, to death after breaking in to his home to steal drugs.

Driver strikes, kills Marysville man who was crossing I-5 in Seattle

The man’s car had broken down near Mercer Street. Troopers reported that he was struck when he tried to cross the freeway.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Darrington woman stabbed, buried 5-year-old daughter

The woman reportedly told investigators she was hearing voices before she killed her young daughter on Valentine’s Day.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.