Understanding Hirst

Over almost a decade of see-sawing litigation on whether or not private-wells should stay exempt if water is available on the property and the state law which allowed the property owner an exempt right to use it; the Hirst decision ruling by the Supreme Court of Washington State (SCOWS) in Oct. 2016, turned all of this on its head by requiring each property to prove that water available on or under their property would not negatively affect the ground water of a senior water right.

On Jan. 29th, 2018 the Washington State Legislature passed a bi-partisan rule which addressed the Supreme Court of Washington States’ ruling. A ruling, that upheld the Hirst case brought before the State Court claiming that Whatcom County had failed to properly quantify and ”state’ how much water is available and for what purposes. This is referred to as water planning.  SCOWS found in favor of the litigants, Futurewise, Eric Hirst, David Stalheim, Laura Brakke, and Wendy Harris, but the State Legislature always had the power to fix Hirst by legislative authority.

Then what was the problem? The problem was that the State House of Representatives refused to bring to a vote of the House floor, the many machinations for a potential Hirst Fix, which had passed out of the State Senate. Due to the House of Representatives failure to do this there were many representatives who steadfastly refused to vote on the States’ Capital Budget without a vote on new legislation which would provide the counties in Washington State relief from the Hirst decision. ESSB-6091 gives counties twelve-months to update and approve their water plans and  reaffirms that the Planning Unit of each WRIA (Water Resource Inventory Area), of which Whatcom County is WRIA 1, is the lead agency in charge of orchestrating this update.

On today’s Whatcom Report, Mary Kay Robinson (host of the show and Whatcom County realtor) and Perry Eskridge (Government Affairs Director for the Whatcom County Realtors Assoc.) discussed the history and outcome of the Hirst Fix (ESSB-6091). Robinson and Eskridge delivered a thoughtful, nonpartisan discussion on Hirst and ESSB-6091 which will help you to better understand this issue. What happened throughout Hirst and why is it so important that Whatcom County and other government entities work cooperatively to meet the February 2019 deadline given by the State Legislature to update our water plan?

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One comment

  1. I commend the factual and non-partisan discussion Perry Eskridge and Mary Kay had on “Understanding Hirst” on Saturday. Like I said in the Council meeting that this is under 2% of the problem which consumed 98% of community energy. Rightly so, because it was very visible and personal financial impact on people, families and community. The fact remains that nothing has changed on the ground. We have next 12 months to develop local solutions, which are best for Whatcom County. If we don’t we will lose the control to DOE and their decision may not be always in the best suited for all residents. One item was a remiss that no mention was made of Postma and Foster decisions by WA Supreme Court. Those two decisions limited the ability of Whatcom County Council, PDS and the local citizens to find reasonable solutions to the Hirst decision. Those two decisions are still in effect. I would like to welcome all the stakeholder and citizens to show non partisan support to Planning Unit, WRIA 1 Board and the Joint Board to revise the WRIA 1 Plan by Feb 2019. I will be happy to discuss about water issues and share my thought openly to each and everyone of you. Just call me. It is not that I have the answers, but a good discussion always helps to reach good decisions. Satpal Sidhu Whatcom County Council member 360 305 4948

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