The Hirst agreement comes after over a year of negotiations and a failure to pass a capital budget during the 2017 session. The new agreement eases regulations on new small wells and allocates $300 million in water conservation projects throughout Washington.
Senator Judy Warnick, lead negotiator on the bill and former chair of the Senate’s Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee, says she believes the agreement finally recognizes the needs of rural Washingtonians.
“It has been an arduous and complex negotiation,” said Warnick. “I believe that the compromise we have reached meets the criteria that I stated at the end of last year, namely that any solution must not be a burden on rural families who simply need water to build a home.”
“It has taken us this long to get here because many in Olympia didn’t take the plight of rural Washington seriously,” Warnick said. “We did what we had to do to represent our constituents and get the attention of urban lawmakers who don’t need to worry about where their water comes from.”
The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 35 to 14, and passed in the House 66 to 30. Senator Keith Wagoner is one of the senators who voted against the Hirst bill. In a press release he said,
“We’re on a slippery slope. I believe that supporters of property rights and property owners will regret this bill,” said Wagoner. Well users are adding to the rivers. I’m a physical oceanography major. I know this is not based in science. This bill is based in bureaucratic arguments.”
“As the mayor of Sedro-Woolley and now as the senator for the 39th District, I’ve seen the enormous impact the Hirst decision has had on my neighbors in Skagit County. I’ve talked with many constituents whose property has been left in limbo and considered worthless because they are unable to develop it,” said Wagoner, “I hope this isn’t over. I will continue to fight for water rights in the 39th District and legislation that respects my neighbors.”
Senator Maureen Walsh says that though the agreement isn’t perfect, it is necessary to allow construction to move forward across the state.
“The compromise on Hirst is a fragile agreement,” said Sen. Walsh. “Like most political compromises, our solution to the rural water crisis is imperfect as it places unnecessary restrictions and costs on rural property owners. But after months of negotiations, it is the best deal we are likely to strike this year, and we need to act quickly. For thousands of rural property owners, no legislation would mean no water.
The Hirst fix also gave the green light for Republicans to pass the capital budget which has been held up since last year as Republicans refused to support a capital budget bill without a long-term solution to the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. Failure to pass the $4.2 billion budget has withheld nearly $2 billion in K-12 and higher education construction projects, $90 million in community behavioral health projects, and nearly $100 million for affordable housing. The capital budget bill passed the House 95-1 and the Senate 49-0.
“This budget is designed with Washington students in mind,” said Sen. Jim Honeyford, the lead Senate Republican for the capital budget. “It invests an historic level of support for K-12 reforms.
“In addition to education, we prioritize projects that focus on helping meet our state’s mental-health needs, mitigate the damage of environmental disasters and preserve and develop existing properties – all while leaving capacity in the budget to address unforeseen future needs.”
Representative Derek Stanford added,
“I am frustrated that this process has taken so long. We should have finished this last year,” said Rep. Stanford. “That being said, we can now build more schools, upgrade our parks, and move our economy forward.”
Governor Inslee signed the Hirst legislation into law at 12:25PM today, and is expected to quickly sign the capital budget as well.