By Diana Carlen
Rural areas are still waiting for relief from the Legislature to fix the controversial Hirst water decision issued by the Washington State Supreme Court last fall that has severely curtailed economic development by limiting the use of permit-exempt wells. While several bills were introduced this session to address the court decision, one bill (E2SSB 5239) introduced by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) has had the most momentum after passing out of the Senate earlier this session with bipartisan support.
E2SSB 5239 reverses the Hirst decision and shifts responsibility for water appropriations for exempt wells from local county building departments back to the Department of Ecology who administered state water resources prior to the court decision. However, E2SSB 5239 did not move out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee by the deadline because it faced strong opposition from tribal and environmental interests.
Despite missing the legislative deadline, E2SSB 5239 could still be adopted by the Legislature this session if Senate and House leadership reached an agreement on final bill language. Indeed, each caucus has expressed strong interest in finding a fix this session, and legislators are holding regular meetings with stakeholders and the governor’s office to accomplish this. It is likely that this issue will be worked on during any special session and as part of budget negotiations.
The Washington Association of Wheat Growers supports the Legislature taking action this year to clear up the confusion caused by the Hirst decision and believes that E2SSB 5239 is the best proposal to do this.