Most rural Washington residents have heard about the so-called Hirst decision and how it’s devastating rural families and communities.
The instability and uncertainty caused by Hirst has put a halt to new home-building permits in many counties while at the same time causing a huge devaluation in property. Without access to water, land is virtually worthless and banks won’t lend on it.
The Hirst decision is affecting rural homelessness, as well.
In 2014, before the devastating wildfires, Okanogan County had a vacancy rate hovering around 1 percent. Many people who lost their homes are now unable to rebuild simply because they can’t drill a well on their own land.
We’ve made strides in our neck of the woods to address affordable housing. But the Hirst decision sets us back ten-fold. The housing crisis in many parts of rural Washington is real, and it’s stifling further economic growth in areas that desperately need it — areas that have high unemployment rates and low incomes.
For many, Hirst is the last blow and final reason to take up stakes and leave behind the land they chose, the communities they love and the rural lifestyle they treasure.
Those of us fighting for rural Washington have historically drawn a line in the sand on this issue of permit-exempt wells. They’re permit exempt for a reason: they have no measurable effect on instream flows, according to the head of the state Department of Ecology.
Despite all of this, getting Democrats in the Legislature to engage on this issue in a serious way has been frustrating to say the least. The vast majority of Hirst “solutions” put forth by Democrats and environmentalists would make the situation worse, not better.
With so much talk recently during Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State address about “One Washington,” I felt it was appropriate to introduce my One Washington Water Act, where water equality is the goal.
It’s time we expand the Hirst debate and level the playing field. If we’re really going to talk about “One Washington,” we need to do it with something as important as access to water. Let’s include the tens of thousands of new water and sewer connections in urban Washington each year.
My bill, House Bill 2772, takes several of the policies found in various Hirst proposals and combines them into an omnibus water bill that sets new standards for cities with more than 100,000 residents.
For example, before issuing any new building permits in Seattle, the city must conduct an environmental impact statement to evaluate the past, present and future environmental impacts of the proposed water withdrawals. The study must include potential impacts on instream flows, Pacific salmon, water availability and tribal treaty fishing rights.
Also, all new single-family homes would be limited to no more than 350 gallons per day and multi-family units would be limited to 150 gallons. Additional water could be purchased for a dollar per gallon over these established limits.
My bill would require municipal water suppliers to implement a cost-effective water conservation plan. This plan must describe the projects and technologies used and list improvements in water efficiency as a result of its efforts over the previous six years.
Another component of my bill says that a municipal water supplier may not supply water that results in the water being discharged into a water resource area different from where it originated.
Most permit-exempt wells use on-site septic infiltration methods that return water to the water shed and recharge the aquifer. However, most of Seattle gets its water from high up in the Cedar River watershed. After the water is used, it is treated and then discharged into Puget Sound. In some cases, millions of gallons of grey water and raw sewage have been released. Why is this not part of the Hirst debate?
I don’t necessarily support these rules and regulations, but this is the layer of B.S. — I mean, bureaucracy — that is being piled on rural residents. The audacity, ignorance and hypocrisy of these proposals is staggering.
I know some will try writing my legislation off as just a “messaging bill.”
Frankly, I don’t care. But as I’ve outlined some of the Hirst “solutions” and applied them to Seattle, I only have one question for those who are pushing their draconian water standards unnecessarily onto rural Washington residents:
Are you getting the message?
— Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is the deputy Republican leader and serves on the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Email him at Joel.Kretz@leg.wa.gov.