OLYMPIA — The House Environment Committee chairman signaled Tuesday that House Democrats won’t bar rural residents from watering gardens and yards as part of a deal to relax the Washington Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said he proposed limiting new wells to meet only indoor needs because water applied outdoors evaporates instead of returning to the ground through a septic tank.
“That was the intent there, but I think we’ve just realized that’s not the hill to die on with this bill,”
Fitzgibbon told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, “We’ve moved away from thinking that indoor-use-only is a conversation we’re going to resolve in this bill this year. I would not expect that a bill before you to vote on would include that restriction.”
How much water rural residents should be allowed to use has emerged as an issue as lawmakers negotiate a bill to reopen rural areas to new wells. The Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that each new well should be assumed to pose a risk to streams that sometimes fall below minimum levels set for fish by the Department of Ecology.
Environmental groups support prohibiting new wells from being used for outdoor purposes as a key part of applying the Hirst decision statewide. Currently, domestic wells can withdraw up to 5,000 gallons a day for indoor or outdoor use.
House Bill 2740, introduced by Fitzgibbon, would cap average daily withdrawals from new wells to as much as 1,000 gallons a day to as little as 350 gallons, depending on the water supply in a basin. The water could only be used indoors, according to the bill.
Ecology water resources manager Dave Christensen said the bill provided for a reasonable amount of water.
Farm groups and others say the prohibition on using water outdoors would prevent people from cultivating gardens, having animals and greening up vegetation to protect their homes from wildfires.
“Counties cannot support indoor-only water use,” Washington State Association of Counties policy director Laura Berg said. “We have situations where people are growing their food, and we need to be able to water for that.”
The Senate could vote this week on a bill that would allow new wells to draw up to 950 gallons a day for indoor and outdoor use.
The Senate Agriculture, Water and Nature Resources Committee last week gave the bill bipartisan support. There is no guarantee the bill will pass the full Senate, said Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
“I think it is an agreement in a committee, not the entire Senate,” he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a family of four uses 400 gallons a day, with 70 percent of that used outdoors. Domestic wells account for 1 percent of water consumption, according to Ecology.