New law intended to resolve Hirst issue about rural water availability

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January 23, 2018

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Late last week the Senate and House of Representatives finally reached agreement on a new policy aimed at resolving the rural water situation caused by the Hirst court ruling. The votes to pass Senate Bill 6091 took place almost a year since I chaired the first Senate committee hearing on Hirst-related bills.

Issued in October 2016, the Hirst decision involved two important priorities: Ensuring adequate water for instream flows (necessary for fish) and for domestic use. It affected the permit-exempt wells that draw less than 5,000 gallons of water daily for domestic purposes – wells that are often critical for residential development in rural areas. The state Supreme Court’s ruling greatly complicated the process for getting local permission to drill an exempt well in support of a building permit application.

I’m very proud that none of us, Republicans or Democrats, gave up on trying to find a thoughtful compromise to the Hirst issue. While the new law doesn’t reflect what everyone wanted, it represents a positive step forward and provides both a level of clarity and certainty that we haven’t had since the ruling came down.

My goal going into this process was for the final outcome to be either positive or not harmful to our North Central Washington watersheds. I supported the Hirst legislation because I believe this goal was accomplished.


The policy changes took effect as soon as the governor signed the bill Friday, so the next step for rural landowners is to contact their local land use officials for details about how to proceed. Here is a short overview related to our legislative district. 

Summary of SB 6091

The new policy will have different effects in different parts of the state because it relies on water resource inventory areas (WRIAs) to categorize how decisions about water wells will be made. There are 62 WRIAs statewide; seven of them cover most of the land in the 12th District.

WRIA map

Effect on 12th District WRIAs

  • In a WRIA without an instream flow rule, which is not listed in the bill, a water well report is sufficient evidence of adequate water supply. This applies to WRIA 44 (Moses Coulee), WRIA 47 (Chelan Watershed) and WRIA 50 (Foster Creek Watershed).
  • In a WRIA with an instream flow rule that explicitly regulates exempt wells, the terms of the rule must be followed in determining whether an applicant can show evidence of adequate water supply. This applies to WRIA 45 (Wenatchee River Basin), WRIA 46 (Entiat River Basin), and WRIA 48 (Methow Watershed).
  •  In a WRIA with an instream flow rule that does not explicitly regulate exempt wells and where a watershed plan was completed, wells are authorized if the applicant pays a $500 fee.  Water use for domestic purposes is set at a maximum annual average of 3,000 gallons per day. This applies to WRIA 49 (Okanogan River Basin), of which a portion is located in District 12.

Here are links to Hirst-related information and news coverage:

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as your 12th District state senator.


Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District


107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000