Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Good news! Thursday evening, the Legislature passed the Hirst solution and the capital construction budget. I voted in favor of both. The following day the governor signed the bills into law.
The Hirst Solution
You may remember the state Supreme Court's controversial Hirst water decision from October 2016. The decision restricted property owners in mostly rural parts of the state from drilling wells on their property. This had a negative impact on rural economic development. The argument was that wells could reduce in-stream flows of rivers, creeks, and other watersheds, eventually affecting fish passage.
On Thursday evening, Senate Bill 6091, the Hirst solution, passed from the House with a vote of 66-30. It came out of the Senate with a vote of 35-14. Here is a summary of how the bill affects the 16th District:
- It grandfathers existing wells as a legally adequate water supply to obtain a building permit throughout the state.
- It allows the counties to rely on the Department of Ecology to manage the water without the county doing an independent analysis of water availability before issuing building permits.
- It provides up to $300 million for projects in restricted areas to address stream-flow issues.
- Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA) with existing water management rules, such as the Walla Walla Basin, revert to their previously adopted rules. For example, in the Walla Walla Basin, permit-exempt wells are limited to 1,250 gallons per day in-home use. If outdoor use is needed, there is a one-time mitigation fee of $2,000 to purchase 0.55 acre-feet of water. Also, the homeowner must meter the usage of water and report it to Department of Ecology annually. (The Walla Walla Basin WRIA includes most of Walla Walla County and a part of Columbia County.)
- WRIA's without instream flow rules already in place revert to pre-Hirst water laws, which allow for permit-exempt wells limited to 5,000 gallons per day. (This rule applies to the portions of the 16th District not in the Walla Walla Basin.)
While I am concerned about new fees of $500 at the time of building on top of the existing $200 for a well, and water restrictions of 3,000 gallons or 950 gallons, depending on the watershed, I felt the positives of the breakthrough on this Hirst solution outweighed the negatives on this agreement, so that is why I supported the bill.
Lawmakers also voted Thursday to approve a capital budget. Often called the state's construction budget, it will spend more than $4 billion on schools, colleges and universities, prisons, juvenile rehabilitation facilities, parks, housing for low-income residents and veterans, and other facilities and programs.
In and around the 16th District, just less than $40 million dollars is appropriated in the capital budget, including but not limited to:
- $1 million for the Pasco Early Learning Center. State money will help convert the old Pasco Senior Center into a preschool facility, providing classrooms for 200 children before they enter kindergarten;
- $900,000 for the City of College Place, to help build a new well to replace failing wells serving the city's water system;
- $335,000 for acquisition of the GESA Power House Theater in Walla Walla by a local non-profit organization;
- $1.5 million for flood plain planning at the Wooten Wildlife Area; and
- $4.6 million for repairs and maintenance at 16th District community college facilities.
I want to hear from you
This is a short session and deadlines on public hearings, floor sessions and other necessary action on bills are rapidly approaching. Now is the time to contact my office if you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and/or state government. My contact information is below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!