Monday, January 29, 2018

Spokane County Commissioners OK with state's Hirst fix, plan to repeal restrictions

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 9:10 AM

click to enlarge All in all, Kerns and French feel fine with the Hirst bill - WILSON CRISCIONE
  • Wilson Criscione
  • All in all, Kerns and French feel fine with the Hirst bill

In response to the Washington state legislature's so-called "Hirst fix" passed last week, Spokane County will likely repeal an ordinance that laid out restrictions for issuing building permits based on domestic wells in rural counties.

The 2016 Hirst decision put cities and counties, instead of the Department of Ecology, in charge of managing water availability. In Spokane County, the requirement that water be "legally available" before issuing a permit essentially halted development in an area in north Spokane. The bill passed last week, however, reversed many of those impacts.

"It doesn't get us back to where we were, pre-Hirst, but it gets us to a better position," says Spokane County Commissioner Al French.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners will consider a repeal of the county's temporary zoning ordinance put in place to follow the Hirst decision.

French says people wanting a building permit before the court decision could go to Ecology and get an exempt well and it was "off to the races — have a nice day." Now, there are some added barriers, like obtaining a deed saying it's a permit-exempt well and that in the event of a drought the well might be impaired.

County commissioner Josh Kerns agrees that the Hirst fix, overall, is good since it puts responsibility back on Ecology instead of the county.

"We came out well — no pun intended," Kerns says.

In the Little Spokane Watershed, in north Spokane, the Hirst decision made it nearly impossible to obtain a building permit. But now, applicants will fall into one of two categories: If they use a well drilled prior to Jan. 19 of this year, they will need to provide a well log showing the well was constructed before that date and complies with state standards. If they use a well drilled after that date, they will pay a $500 fee and have a restriction of use of 3,000 gallons per day on average.

While the 3,000 gallons per day isn't where it was before Hirst, Kerns says that's better than he was expecting.

"3,000, based on where it could have been, is pretty good," Kerns says, noting other areas in the state that are limited to 950 gallons per day.

Outside of the Little Spokane Watershed, other areas of Spokane County have a limit of 5,000 per day.

Environmental groups like Futurewise, which brought the lawsuit leading to the Hirst decision, released a statement cautioning that the bill leaves "over half the state without protections for instream flows, and continuing the overappropriation of water."

The county, as the Inlander wrote about recently, created a water bank that saved some residents from the contentious Hirst law. It allowed for private development in the Little Spokane Watershed by purchasing senior water rights and selling certificates to use those water rights.

Now, after the Hirst fix, the water bank may seem less urgent. But as Kerns says, it's "more of an insurance policy" in case there's another ruling down the road.

French says the water bank still has value because there is "still a market for water rights."

"It gives you greater security and it's something that cannot be taken away," French says. "Now that the legislature has taken action, we don't know what lawsuits are going to be filed."
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