One good thing about the special session (yes, we’re looking for good things to write) is that it give lawmakers a chance to restore water rights to many rural Washington property owners. The Seattle Times editorial board calls on legislators to act swiftly.
Before lawmakers leave Olympia for good this year, they must clean up the mess left by an October state Supreme Court ruling and restart smart development in Washington’s economically challenged rural counties.
At issue are Washington’s Byzantine water laws. The law tenuously balances century-old water claims for municipalities and farmers with tribal rights to fish in healthy rivers. The law grants limited exemptions for well drilling too.
The Supreme Court ruling knocked that balance askew. In a decision known as the Hirst ruling, the justices put extra scrutiny on — and dramatically raised — the price of drilling wells that are exempted from the water-rights law.
We discussed the Hirst ruling earlier this year, putting it in the frame of regulatory policy.
In the Hirst decision, the state Supreme Court created uncertainty and confusion, limiting development and opportunity. A legislative fix is appropriate.
The Seattle Times editorial makes a similar point.
Fixing the Hirst decision requires navigating between the Growth Management Act, which regulates rural development; Native American tribes; and water-rights holders, who have a legitimate interest in ensuring their taps don’t run dry because of overzealous well drilling.
But the economic damage to rural Washington — which lags extensively behind the superheated central Puget Sound economy — is too great to ignore…The Republican-led Senate passed a Hirst fix with bipartisan support, but the bill was held up in the Democratic-led House.
…The House must act. Fixing the Hirst ruling is on the must-do list before lawmakers adjourn for good.