Dems, GOP sit down for serious talks on water rights law

OLYMPIA — Negotiations on new state rules for drilling wells began this week, ending the longest political stand-off in the Legislature this year.

Representatives of the Democrat-controlled House, Republican-led Senate and governor’s office sat down Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks on a response to the Supreme Court ruling effectively ending the ability of homeowners to drill a well without a permit.

The Hirst decision issued last fall put the onus on counties to ensure the quality and quantity of water for existing wells and streams is not undermined by the drilling of new wells.

As a result of the ruling, counties can no longer rely on the state Department of Ecology to determine whether there’s enough water for a new well. Each county must come up with its own system for predicting the impact on water flowing to nearby streams or available to existing wells.

Environmentalists and tribal leaders embraced the decision as a victory for protecting water resources. Owners of property in rural areas contend they cannot develop their land because they cannot get water.

In Olympia, Republican senators are pushing legislation to enable landowners to obtain permission to drill wells in much the same manner as before. And counties would again be able to rely on the ecology department for information on the availability of water.

Under Senate Bill 5239, as a condition of getting a water rights permit, a property owner might be required to offset impacts to fish or aquatic resources. The nature of the mitigation is not detailed and might not necessarily require them to identify a source of water to replace what they use.

Democratic representatives and Gov. Jay Inslee are proposing a path that also would allow property owners to obtain a permit to drill. A new fee would be collected and used to cover the cost of mitigation. Chiefly, this would entail finding a new source of water to offset what is extracted. While it is best to have the replacement source nearby, it is not a prerequisite, lawmakers said.

The fundamental goal of House Bill 2226 is protecting existing water rights, said Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, one of the negotiators. In areas where water obtained from a new well could impair someone’s water rights or the flow of water to nearby streams there will be a need for mitigation, he said. Figuring out an appropriate fee and a fair process for mitigation is a central point of conversation, he said.

On Wednesday, the parties met for 90 minutes in a basement conference room of the Senate GOP office building, poring through the different approaches.

“I’m disappointed it took so long to get to this point but I’m glad we got there,” said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee. “We know kind of where the battle lines are more specifically.”

“The most important takeaway is the commitment to have a bill. I have heard that maybe we don’t need a bill,” she said. “I got a commitment at the end of this meeting we will have a bill.”

Also taking part Wednesday were Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, Stanford, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, Secretary of Ecology Maia Bellon and Rob Duff, the governor’s senior policy adviser on natural resources.

“I was equally encouraged,” Springer said. “It was our first opportunity to really identify where the pinch points are. The struggle will be how you determine what mitigation is appropriate. The day of the exempt well with no permitting requirements are over.”

Stanford said the group “covered a lot of ground. Clearly there is work remaining to be done.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

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.