Quick! What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Washington State?
Did you answer rain? Of course you did. You’ve all read Twilight, right? I mean, seriously, ferns grow on trees here. And you’d better pray that you don’t get lost in the woods, because the moss grows on all sides of the tree trunks.
Even in the arid part of the state east of the Cascade Range, you don’t have to go far to find water. The Columbia River not only provides clean hydro power, it’s also the backbone of the Columbia Basin Project, capable of irrigating over a million acres of otherwise useless land.
Because Washington has been so abundantly blessed with water, it makes an October ruling by the State Supreme Court even more baffling than it might otherwise be. The Hirst ruling deprives rural property owners of the rightful use of their land by restricting their ability to drill water wells.
Here’s an overview of the Hirst ruling.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 6, 2016 that counties planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) must make their own determination of available water before issuing a building permit.
The case, Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (also known as Hirst), overturns a 2015 Court of Appeals decision that held that Whatcom County could rely on the Department of Ecology’s determinations of available water to allow the use of wells (considered permit-exempt under the law) in basins not closed by Ecology.
Essentially, a county planning under GMA cannot issue a building permit that would depend on an exempt well—even if Ecology’s rule allows exempt wells—without showing that the well will not impair certain rivers and streams or a senior water right.
Not unsurprisingly, the Hirst ruling has virtually halted building in rural areas dependent for water on drilled wells.
Yesterday I asked you to consider whether the government could tax people out of homes outside the reach of economically feasible public transportation as a means to achieve the stated goal of having the majority of people in the state living and working in “places that both support bicycling and walking for shorter trips and provide reliable and convenient public transportation that meets mobility needs for longer trips.”
Now I ask you to consider the Hirst ruling in that light. Property without access to water is unfit for human habitation.
I’ve said for many years that real property owners are only renting from the government. If you don’t believe that’s true, try not paying your property taxes for a couple of years. Now that they’ve made themselves the de facto owners of your property, they’re telling you exactly how you can use it. That’s their right as your landlord, isn’t it?
But beyond that, they’re asserting their right to control your access to a basic necessity of life – water. That scares me!
No one should be able to do that and I’m therefore very grateful that there are legislators in Olympia who agree and sponsored SB 5239. The bill has passed the State Senate and passage is now in the hands of the Democrat controlled House. If you don’t think the government should be able to withhold water from property owners, it can’t hurt to contact your State Representative and let them know.