ESSB-6091 Exempt Well/Water Update

Sign in a farmer's field near Klamath Falls, OR. The farmers were protesting a federal ruling where water was reserved for three endangered species of fish and was not given to the farmers for irrigation in 2001.

Saturday Morning Live has repeatedly stated that the Hirst decision was made with flawed information to solve a problem that does not exist in Whatcom County. That said, ESSB-6091 does bring needed relief to most of Washington States’ properties. The most important piece in ESSB-6091 is the requirement to update county water plans, with the lead agency overseeing water planning to be the counties Planning Unit. Once complete, it will ensure that each county retains their autonomy based on good water planning that includes the stakeholders of each Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) Planning Unit.

ESSB-6091 gives a narrow window of time for our Planning Unit to successfully address this update. The County Council and Washington State must give public and financial support to the Whatcom County Planning Unit, so they can get the job done tasked of them and bring permanent water security to our community.

Exempt Well/Water Update

On January 19, 2018 Governor Inslee signed ESSB 6091 which became effective immediately. The new state law addresses the use of permit exempt water withdrawals for development purposes. On Tuesday January 30, 2018 the Whatcom County Council passed Emergency Interim Ordinance 2018-001 enacting the provisions of ESSB 6091 for the Nooksack River Basin (WRIA 1) portions of the county. This Emergency Ordinance will allow citizens to obtain building permits with a new permit exempt well as their approved water source for domestic use (in most areas of the county) subject to certain conditions including:

  • Water shall be for domestic use only, with a maximum annual average withdrawal of 3,000 gallons per day per connection.
  • The applicant shall record with the property title any relevant restrictions or limitations associated with water supply; and
  • The applicant shall pay a $500 fee to the county for each project permit.

Existing wells legally constructed prior to January 19, 2018 are considered an adequate water supply for the intended purposes and are not subject to the conditions above. In addition, the above conditions do not apply to Point Roberts, Lummi Island, Eliza Island or portions of the county within the Samish River Basin (WRIA 3).

As with all building permits, approved water availability must first be obtained from the Whatcom County Health Department. Once you have approved water availability from the Health Department, you can start the permitting process.
If you have questions regarding water availability requirements associated with the passage of ESSB 6091 and Emergency Interim Ordinance 2018-001 as they may relate to a specific property, please contact the Whatcom County Health Department at or 360-778-6000 or Whatcom County Planning and Development Services at pds@whatcomcounty.usor 360-778-5900.

You can get more information on our Exempt Well/Water Information page on our website.

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