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Published on Friday, June 2, 2017

Legislature still struggling to find fixes for water management issues

Discussions are continuing in an attempt to resolve the chaos created by the two state Supreme Court water cases known as “Hirst” and “Foster.” Those cases turned water management in the state on its head, creating a new responsibility for local governments to independently assess legal availability of water in parallel with the state (Hirst) and eliminated the opportunity for creative mitigation to offset impacts of new water withdrawals (Foster).

All session AWC has collaborated with the counties and other water users to try to find a way to re-create a workable and stable water resource management system that addresses the challenges created by both the Hirst and Foster decisions. The two chambers currently have very different visions on how to do this.

Broadly speaking the Senate approach (SB 5239) provides clear direction that the state is in charge, allows rural and urban water uses to move forward consistent with Ecology approval. The House does not have an official public proposal but the working draft we have seen includes new growth management responsibilities and a complicated mitigation scheme for new water withdrawals. It does not do anything to restore the ability for the Department of Ecology to approve municipal water uses that are dependent on any mitigation other than 100 percent replacement of water. The Department of Ecology acknowledges that in much of the state this is impossible.

The politics of this issue are proving problematic for the legislature. We are still hopeful and very much engaged in trying to find a solution that meets the state’s environmental duties while providing a practical and durable path for water use into the future.