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Washington Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Water Rights Bill

Doug Nadvornick/SPR/TVW

A water rights bill intended as a response to a controversial Washington Supreme Court decision got a mixed reception at its first hearing in Olympia Monday.

The legislation was drafted as a response to the Hirst case. The goal is to establish procedures to make sure new wells dug for homes and businesses, especially in rural areas, don’t take water set aside to sustain fish populations.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Kevin Van de Wege (D-Sequim).

Ecology Department Director Maia Bellon says it requires state and local authorities to develop restoration and enhancement plans in each watershed in the state. And it reiterates that her agency will continue to be the authority local officials can rely on for information. Many county officials say their governments aren’t prepared to do their own analysis in water management cases.

Property owners from around the state testified the bill will make it too difficult and expensive for them to get water for their rural homes. Estella Newman, who lives in rural King County, says she and her husband bought a five-acre parcel adjacent to their land where they plan to build a home for their son.

“And we went to the county to find out, essentially, our land is worthless. We can’t build a well," Newman said. "It’s a pretty huge negative financial impact on our family. So I would urge that that is some incidental fallout. I would ask that you find out how it would affect the citizens and the landowners.”

Van de Wege says his bill is just a starting point to developing a compromise that will satisfy both the needs of fish and rural landowners.


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