Last week the state legislature adjourned without passing a $4 billion capital budget because leaders in the Majority Coalition Caucus couldn’t agree on how to reform the state’s permit-exempt well process.
Last fall, the state Supreme Court decided in Whatcom County v. Hirst that local governments need to find out if water is actually available before issuing building permits. Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, recently wrote that the Hirst decision should be part of the solution, not something to be fixed:
The solution is not to change state laws and violate treaty law to enable still more water to be taken, whether it’s available or not.
No, the solution is to try using conservation, to fix leaks and be more efficient. It also may involve some increased storage of runoff winter rains, reuse and double piping, technical improvement of in-home fixtures, more restricted use and possibly even desalination.
You’re wrong to say the water shortage problem was created by Hirst. It has been caused by overpopulation, overdevelopment and the carefree mindset that water supplies are endless. Political pressure will not create more water. And it would be a mistake to think you have the right to dip into the instream flows to meet out-of-stream needs.
In last year’s State of Our Watersheds Report, the Quinault Indian Nation explained how exempt wells impact streamflows and salmon in the tribe’s area of interest. From the report:
Many streams in the Chehalis basin, including Scatter Creek, as well as Black, Skookumchuck and Newaukum rivers, are closed to further consumptive appropriations in the summer. The impact of wells is expected to be greater in those areas where stream flows already do not meet regulatory minimums.
Before the Hirst decision, wells were being dug despite a lack of evidence that there was water available:
There are currently 14,876 wells in the Quinault Area of Interest. The majority of wells are in the higher population areas of around Aberdeen, Centralia, Chehalis, and the I-5 corridor as well as in the agriculture areas, particularly in the upper Chehalis basin. Between 1980 and 2009, 9,991 wells were completed in the Quinault Area of Interest at a rate of about 344 new wells per year. Between 2010 and 2014, an additional 580 wells were added at a rate of about 116 new wells per year.