Democrats say they hope Republicans will make compromises on Hirst bill

Democrats said they intend to work with Republicans on resolving problems that emerged following a 2016 state Supreme Court case regarding personal wells, but their priorities are a bit different.

A judge ruled in October that counties are responsible for determining whether there’s enough water on a piece of property for the landowners to drill their own well. Before then, counties relied on the Department of Ecology to make those determinations.

Republicans support Senate Bill 5239, which would effectively undo the court’s decision. The bill would codify relying on the Department of Ecology for determining whether there’s enough water to drill wells that pump less than 5,000 gallons of water per day.

But Democratic leaders explained why they weren’t wholly backing the Senate bill at their regular press conference Tuesday.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the bill caused two problems that concerned Democrats.

“It essentially overturned the court decision, and there’s a lot of sentiment and a lot of support for allowing people who bought homes to be able to develop their property, but it didn’t put into place any protections for people that already own water rights,” she said. “So we’re hoping in the House, that gets negotiated. The other part that was taken out was the proposal that would allow the Department of Ecology to work with counties on mitigation plans and mitigation banking, and that was taken out in the budget committee because it costs money. And clearly if we’re going to manage our water property we’re going to need to spend a little money doing it right.”

The issue that SB 5239 doesn’t address, argued Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, is that water is a scarce resource and mitigation plans need to be enacted so that future developers don’t unintentionally drain water away from water right owners.

“I know water is very controversial,” Lytton said. “How do we ensure that people can build outside the UGA, can build out in rural areas, to protect that economy, at the same time protecting water rights in the system.”

Lytton added that a group would be discussing water rights and the Hirst issue Tuesday evening.

Erin Fenner:, @erinfenner