What if the government said you could drill a well, but you couldn’t draw any water from it?
That is happening to property owners across the state under the Washington State Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. In the Hirst decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Growth Management Act severely restricts the use of household wells, which many people rely on for everyday activities like cooking or bathing.
This is despite the fact that well water accounts for less than one percent of water consumption in the state. Now, many counties have put an immediate halt to the issuing of building permits as a result of the court’s decision.
This could spell ruin for thousands of property owners across the state — especially in rural areas, where it’s not possible to hook up to municipal water systems.
Before the Hirst decision came down, many people planned to build a home for themselves, investing their life savings in property that is now unusable without water. Many invested in property as retirement income or as an inheritance for their families, but are seeing their land become nearly worthless as a result of this decision. We’ve heard from countless people who had water when they started a project, but now don’t have permission to use it. They’re up a creek without any water.
Not only is this devastating for many families, it will also significantly cut the property value of certain areas, decreasing property tax revenue and creating school and local government funding shortfalls. Ultimately, it will shift the tax burden onto those who have buildable property.
In the Senate, we heard these heartbreaking stories of potential financial ruin and decided to act. We developed a bill that restores the ability of counties to work with the state’s Department of Ecology to address water impacts — essentially bringing the state back to the way it worked before the court upended the system. By providing clarity in the law, people can build and use wells again, freeing them to use their property and build a future for themselves.
We passed this plan in the Senate with bipartisan support in February. Unfortunately, it then ran into a brick wall — the Democrat-controlled House.
We recently passed the cutoff date for when Senate bills have to pass out of their respective policy committees in the House. Our plan to fix the Hirst decision, Senate Bill 5239, needed to pass the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee before that date. Unfortunately, the cutoff date came and went without action by the House and the Hirst fix is now stalled.
The Senate did its job. We heard from the people and responded with a solution. It’s now up to the House to respond to the needs of the citizens of Washington.
There is still time left in the legislative session if we are able to make it clear to the House Democratic leadership that property owners need relief now.
If you rely on a well for your water, the Hirst decision may affect you. I am proud that the Senate acted to address the problem. Now it’s time for the House to act so we can have a solution for the people of Washington.
Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, is in her fourth term representing the 26th District, which includes portions of Pierce and Kitsap counties.