The Washington Farm Bureau on Tuesday supported scrapping a state Supreme Court ruling that effectively bars new wells for rural homes.
Senate Bill 5239, introduced by Moses Lake Republican Judy Warnick, would restore the state Department of Ecology’s previous policy of allowing new wells. Domestic wells consume 1 percent of the state’s water supply.
“All this does is take us back to where we were before the Supreme Court did what we think is your job, which is make a policy decision,” Evan Sheffels told the Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee.
The hearing was the first this session on bills responding directly to the Hirst decision, a ruling hailed by environmentalists and tribes, but that the Farm Bureau describes as “terrible” and a blow to their members who may ever want to drill a well for a new home.
The court ruled that landowners must prove a new well won’t threaten fish-friendly river levels, commonly called minimum instream flows. Ecology has set the flows in 29 of the state’s 62 watersheds, as well as the Columbia River.
SB 5239 would declare that new wells can’t be considered a threat to minimum flows.
Ecology’s water resources manager Dave Christensen joined environmentalists and tribes in testifying that the bill would not adequately protect stream flows.
The committee also took testimony on Senate Bill 5024 introduced by Tulalip Democrat John McCoy.
The bill would direct counties to certify a new well won’t impair stream flows, an obligation county officials said they aren’t equipped to handle.
Sheffels, also speaking on behalf of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said counties would be hard-pressed to find water to offset new wells.
“We have strong concerns with 5024,” he said. “Our main concern is we don’t think the bill works. This is an outcome-based world. We think the main question is, How many folks could move forward and get their homes built?”
Neither bill heard Tuesday likely will emerge from the Legislature, though it’s unclear whether lawmakers and interest groups can agree on a compromise.
Bryce Yadon, lobbyist for the environmental group Futurewise, said new wells can make old ones run dry. “One of the main reasons we joined the (Hirst) lawsuit was consumer protection.”
Washington Realtors lobbyist Bill Clarke scoffed. “We’ve heard from hundreds of consumers … people and families who in the last five years to 10 years have bought property relying on Ecology’s rules, relying on local land-use plans, and they’re stuck, and I fail to see how that is a consumer-protection decision,” he said.
Zach Nutting, 39, a framer from Whatcom County, said he spent $40,000 to buy and prep 5 acres. Relying heavily on his own labor, he hoped to build a family home for $50,000. But he can’t get a building permit because of the Hirst decision.
He got down on his knees in front of the committee for the sake of his wife and four daughters. “I’m going to beg you members of the government to fix this problem,” he said.