Sen. Warnick to continue Hirst fight

‘Access to water is a basic human right.’

Key Hirst figure decries lack of capital funds

By Roger Harnack

OLYMPIA — One of the key players in the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision is now complaining that land her agency manages is at risk due to the decision.

Last week, state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz complained the state Department of Natural Resources needs capital funds held up by the stalemate over fixing the Hirst decision.

The decision stems from the Eric Hirst, Laura Leigh Brakke, Wendy Harris, David Stalheim and Futurewise v. Whatcom County lawsuit filed in 2012.

At the time, now state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz was the CEO of Futurewise.

The state Supreme Court’s decision essentially stripped rural land owners of the ability to drill a private well for even drinking water on the land they own.

During the capital budget process, the Senate Majority Caucus has refused to consider spending more state dollars until a Hirst fix is in place, enabling rural land owners to once again drill potable, permit-exempt wells on property they own.

But the wrangling over Hirst doesn’t sit well with Franz, who was also an attorney with the environmental activist group that, with others, filed suit against Whatcom County over the well issue.

“The loss of this funding will be felt by communities and families around the state,” Franz said.

Franz, who in her role as state lands commissioner heads the state Department of Natural Resources, said failure to give her the money she wants will lead to more devastating fires.

Natural Resources was expecting to receive $15 million for projects that would have included thinning, replanting forests and restoration projects.

As proposed, the capital budget thinning funds would have removed 15,000 acres of trees damaged by pine beetles, disease and drought.

“A century of mismanaged forests has clogged our forests with dead, dry and sick trees that make our summer wildfire seasons as destructive as we’ve seen in the past decade,” Franz said. “We need this funding to undo this mess by thinning these trees from our forests.”

Franz has not commented on any responsibility she may have stemming from her position with Futurewise in the current capital budget-Hirst stalemate.

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Sen. Judy Warnick

— Moses Lake Republican Sen. Judy Warnick is not giving up the fight against the Hirst decision as legislators go home for perhaps the rest of the year.

The Senate, with a slight Republican majority, has passed the bill.

The House, controlled by Democrats, has not.

It was the last issue the House dealt with as the third special session of the Legislature closed last week.

“While I am disappointed that the House leadership chose to leave families without a solution to their water needs, I am committed to continuing the dialogue to find a permanent solution for water availability,” said Warnick, sponsor and lead negotiator on the bill to overturn the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.

That’s the sentiment of most Eastern Washington legislators, including Rep. David Taylor of Yakima and Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger, both Republicans.

“Access to water is a basic human right,” Warnick said. “And finding a solution to Hirst that allows families to build on their property with a reliable source of water is not only a necessity — it is a moral obligation for elected officials in this state.”

Hirst is a late 2016 decision by the state Supreme Court that has many people believing this is end of permit-exempt wells.

The Hirst decision stems from the Eric Hirst, Laura Leigh Brakke, Wendy Harris, David Stalheim and Futurewise v. Whatcom County lawsuit filed in 2012.

At the time, now state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz was the CEO and an attorney for Futurwise.

The state Supreme Court’s decision essentially stripped rural land owners of the ability to drill a private well for even drinking water on the land they own.

According to Taylor, permit-exempt wells have been around for decades, providing water necessary to rural living.

Now, some counties have put a moratorium on them.

Chandler said not all areas of the state are interpreting the decision the same.

The Yakima River Basin may not be affected at all, or maybe in part because of federal jurisdiction over its water, he said.

Warnick believes the cost of putting in rural homes will go up $15,000-$30,000 where Hirst hits the hardest.

Before a new house goes up, the owner will have to have a hydrogeologist prove there is water available for a well and that the well would not harm someone else’s water availability, she said.

“Decades of law allowed permit-exempt wells for household use,” Warnick said.

The normally calm and collected Warnick is incensed about this issue.

She sees the little guy — the home owner — forsaken in favor of big users.

Statewide, she said, less than 1 percent of all water use is from permit-exempt wells.

“For weeks, I have been meeting with House Democrats to address their concerns,” Warnick said. “Our Senate Majority Coalition has put forth compromise solutions over the past several months that respect senior water rights, acknowledge the role tribes play in natural resource management and provide a realistic permanent fix.”

Taylor said Hirst was the hot issue in Olympia the last couple of weeks of the session.

The debate was over an amendment proposed by Taylor and Brian Blake, D-Longview.

The amendment to Warnick’s bill, Taylor thought, would bring House Democrats around.

At 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday, the two sides were at an impasse and started going home.

Normally, with this much opposition, Warnick would give up.

Not this time, she said.

“The hearing rooms were packed with people who wanted to build, but felt they couldn’t,” she said.

Hirst will likely end home ownership dreams for some couples, Warnick said.

Before they can even buy property, they’ll have to prove there is water.

“And what about the ones who’ve already bought property?” she asked, rhetorically.

Warnick accused House Democrats of failing to negotiate in good faith.

So far, House Democrats have refused to approve her bill or advance any legislation of their own.

Warnick said they have been moving the goal posts at every opportunity.

“To say the least, negotiations have been challenging, if not frustrating,” she said. “However, I remain optimistic and ready to work toward a solution.”

Taylor and Chandler said they aren’t giving up, either.

They say this issue affects, or will affect everyone in some way.



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