Progress on Hirst water rights fix as legislation moves out of Senate committee

The Association of Washington Business reports progress is being made on remedying the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. 

Last Thursday, the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 6091, the “Hirst fix” bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. The bill to reopen rural Washington to new wells is “an unprecedented but tenuous bipartisan response to the Hirst court decision,” Capital Press reports, giving details on the content of the bill.

Last week we wrote that a Hirst fix and capital budget are two of the top pieces of unfinished business from the 2017 legislative session. 

The Columbia Basin Herald reports on the committee vote, saying the bill remains a work in progress.

The legislature is still far from a final solution for Hirst. The state Senate voted on several Hirst fixes during the 2017 legislative session, but none passed the House.

SB 6091 next needs to be taken up by the Senate Ways and Means Committee before it can be put before the Senate floor.

The Tri-City Herald editorial board urges swift adoption of both a Hirst fix and capital budget, writing,

For the first time since state lawmakers began addressing the water rights conundrum known as the Hirst decision, there appears to be a solution in the works acceptable to both parties.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, sponsor of Senate Bill 6091, said at a recent hearing this is the “first time there’s been bipartisan agreement on Hirst and I think that’s going a long way.”

…Once approved it could be like the first falling domino — pushed hard enough and a myriad of other stalled projects could start to move.

The editorial points out that the impasse on Hirst that blocked the capital budget has jeopardized construction projects. The writers conclude,

… a resolution over the Hirst decision must be found this legislative session, and the capital budget needs approved as well.

We can’t wait another year.

AWB notes the importance of a Hirst resolution to rural economic development.

AWB has pushed strongly for a Hirst fix since the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling that put a major new set of burdens on rural development and well water availability. The Hirst issue was a major part of discussions at both of AWB’s Rural Jobs Summits last year.

The progress is encouraging. The urgency is real.