Senate wrong to hold capital budget for water rights fix

Last week, 10th District State Representatives Norma Smith and Dave Hayes issued a statement defending the Republican Senate’s decision not to adopt a capital budget because the Democrats rejected the GOP’s controversial water rights bill (known as the Hirst decision.) Now, without a capital budget, billions of dollars of critical state construction projects — including funds for schools and low income housing — are left hanging for the foreseeable future.

I take issue with much of their statement and what it left out. But a couple of important points: the water rights “fix” that Republicans advocated was to revert to the way the Department of Ecology administered water rights for exempt wells (for rural households) before the state Supreme Court intervened. The “fix” allows domestic wells to be drilled pretty much anywhere so long as fewer than 5,000 gallons a day are drawn. No water meters are required. No studies are required to determine whether the new well might interfere with streamflows or neighboring wells.

That 5,000 gallons a day is the “limit,” a point the Republicans would not back down on. But how much does a family home actually need? My family’s summer water use is about 183 gallons a day. In the winter, it’s less than 100 gallons a day, about average.

It’s unfortunate that some counties with over-allocated water resources have stopped issuing building permits until the state resolves the issue, meaning that plans for building new homes in those areas are put on hold. But it’s irresponsible for the Republican Senate to hold the state capital budget hostage by insisting on a “Hirst quick fix,” a fix that runs roughshod over treaty rights of some tribes and senior water right holders and winks at compliance with the Growth Management Act. Washington’s water laws are byzantine and involve a lot of seriously competing interests, i.e., it is not a situation that makes for an easy, last minute solution.

And perhaps most important, it is just plain wrong to insist that permits for 5,000 gallon-a-day wells without meters are OK. It is out of touch with the reality that fresh clean water is a limited and valuable natural resource, not to be wasted.

Kim Drury and Tom Fox

Langley

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