Editor note: Governor Inslee signed legislation this morning, Friday, Jan 19, to break the impasse that has frozen new water permits for over a year in rural Whatcom County. Here is a quick first look at what this bill does and how it will impact Whatcom County. We expect to provide more information on this important local issue in the next few days. - John Servais
Under the new law, most pre-existing permit-exempt wells are grandfathered in under previous laws. Updated 1/25/18 by author
From this point on, the Department of Ecology is required to create brief summaries for county planners – so property owners will know what is required in order to drill a permit-exempt well under new water law.
In brief - ESSB 6091
Some of the nitty-gritty details that apply specifically to WRIA 1 (There are 62 Water Resource Inventory Areas in Washington State. Whatcom County and the Nooksack River are #1 )
- Establishes that evidence of potable water for a building permit must meet certain requirements based on the Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) in which the building permit is sought.
- Provides that an applicant’s compliance with the permit-exempt groundwater statute and with applicable instream flow rules is sufficient in determining whether appropriate provisions for water supply for a sub-division have been made.
- Establishes that a county or city may rely on or refer to applicable minimum instream flow rules adopted by the Department of Ecology for purposes of complying with Growth Management Act and Planning Enabling Act requirements relating to water resources.
- Authorizes potential impacts to closed water bodies and potential impairment to instream flows in a specified set of WRIAs, contingent upon compliance with the updated watershed plan process established for that set of WRIAs.
- Authorizes potential impacts to closed water bodies and potential impairment to instream flows for a second specified set of WRIAs, contingent upon compliance with the watershed restoration and enhancement plan process established for that second set of WRIAs.
- Establishes a fee of $500 ($350 goes to Ecology) for each new permit-exempt withdrawal for a domestic purpose in the WRIAs for which an updated watershed plan process or a watershed restoration and enhancement plan process has been established.
- Establishes maximum daily withdrawals, as calculated on an average annual basis, for new permit exempt withdrawals for a domestic purpose in the WRIAs for which an updated watershed plan process has been established.
- Authorizes the issuance of $300 million in bonds to fund watershed restoration and enhancement projects.
- Requires metering of all new domestic permit-exempt groundwater withdrawals in portions of two specified WRIAs.
- Authorizes up to five water resource mitigation pilot projects in specified WRIAs.
In WRIA 1: the lead agency (The Joint Board) must invite a representative from each federally recognized Indian tribe that has a usual and accustomed harvest area within the water resource inventory to participate as part of the planning unit. In collaboration with the planning unit, the initiating governments must update the watershed plan for the WRIA. At a minimum, the updated watershed plan must include those actions that the planning units determine to be necessary to offset potential impacts to instream flows associated with permit-exempt domestic water use.
The updated watershed management plan may include, among other things, recommendations for modifications to fees established under the act and standards for water use quantities that are less than authorized under RCW 90.44.050, or that are more or less than the maximum withdrawals allowed under the act.
If an updated watershed plan is not adopted in WRIA 1 (Nooksack) by February 1, 2019, Ecology must adopt rules in the WRIA that meet the requirements of the act by August 1, 2020.
The WRIA 1 watershed planning unit was reconvened in 2013, but has been isolated from the Joint Board, for some undisclosed reason. The two entities don’t operate together. That may change now that the legislature is requiring updated watershed plans. The original watershed management plan did not complete the instream flow component of the plan – despite the fact that instream flows were included on the list of goals the WRIA 1 watershed planning unit intended to accomplish. Perhaps the planning unit will finally be able to finish that portion of the plan.
It appears that new exempt wells will be allowed in WRIA 1, with the implementation of a new $500 fee, on top of the existing $200 fee - updated 1/25/18 ($350 of the additional $500 fee goes to Ecology) and a new per day gallon limit for individual homes. (3,000 gallons per day for WRIA 1 - updated 1/25/18). It doesn’t appear that meters are required for permit-exempt wells in WRIA 1 at this time.
This bill is an emergency clause and went into effect this morning, right after Governor Inslee signed it into law.
CELP - The Center for Envoironmental Law and Policy - has posted a statement against Hirst fix legislation