“Morally repugnant”? No, it’s simply what rural families need

Too many Washington families are caught in a judicial and bureaucratic limbo thanks to the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. The case is about so much more than water – it’s about, as Madilynne Clark of the Washington Policy Center wrote, “two of the most fundamental necessities – homes and livelihoods.”

The court’s decision has left some families stuck. They’re unable to build on property that they bought before the decision, when new homes had the green light. That’s a big hit to rural economies. The Spokesman-Review noted, “People who purchased property under the old rules now face the prospect of not being able to build on it. Plummeting property values would also impact builders, lenders and county tax collections.”

“Hostage” is in the eye of the beholder
It’s time to do something about it. Senate Republicans in Olympia are trying to fix the problem. They’re vowing not to pass the capital budget (which funds state construction projects) until House Democrats are willing to agree to a Hirst fix.

Gov. Jay Inslee calls that “morally repugnant.” It isn’t – but even if you disagree with Senate Republicans, “morally repugnant” seems a bit much, doesn’t it?

When asked earlier this year about fixing the Hirst problem, Inslee said, “…they ought to focus on McCleary first. We’ve got Hirst, we’ve got all kinds of bills, and we need to get down to business on McCleary first.”

I’ve got great news for him – the general fund budget is passed and the McCleary debate is over for now. Inslee himself said the budget is “above and beyond what I believe is actually required by McCleary.” So isn’t now the time to something about Hirst?

Half-hearted attempt
After much dithering, House Democrats did pass a Hirst-related bill, but it’s limited to helping those families caught in the immediate limbo. It isn’t the broader fix rural areas need (and “rural” in this case is incredibly broad. Hirst halts building in many different communities).

The WPC’s Clark writes:

HB 2239 is no fix at all, postponing the inevitable and undesirable consequences of Hirst until December 31, 2018, conveniently after the next election.

True, it will help the families currently stuck in the middle into a home. But what of the redistributed property taxes, lost rural construction jobs, rising cost of rural home ownership, and loss of funding for major civic functions in rural counties like police, firefighters, schools, and libraries?

Editorial reaction to the Senate Republicans’ stand has been mixed – but how else can legislators from rural areas get Democrats to care about this topic? Some Democratic lawmakers actually like the consequences of the Hirst decision. Others listen to the environmental groups who quietly applaud the way Hirst has quashed development. Those groups would prefer the Legislature leave Hirst as it is.

Some legislators, though, just don’t care about the topic. How to get them to care? Senate Republicans’ are trying the traditional legislative method: holding something else up. Love it or hate it, it seems like the only tool available to shake Olympia’s collective apathy.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • Bob Smalser

    The Northwest Treaty Tribe site say they have a study that demonstrates single-family wells affect stream flow. I’d sure like to see it, because the impermeable glacial till hardpan here defies the USGS cookbook solution on the relationship between aquifers and surface streams.


    • Vivian Eason

      And water used by casinos don’t affect streams? The tribes don’t have to follow state law and so can continue to build. They just want control of the water.

  • Jerry Martens

    The boarder question is when will State leaders finally understand that 100 year old water law targeted to irrigation and broad based water consumption does not and will never fit with exempt de minimus uses. A fix to Hirst can only come about with a new subset of laws targeted to this user group and must include specific representation of this user group.

    The mistake made in 1945 was a law passed with no water appropriation attached. The travesty is 70 years of State leadership that has ignored the issue until water issue require they do something. The result was leadership that went after water uses that are so small they can not be measured individually.

    Maybe citizen will realize that water is a much smaller problem than non existent lawmakers.

  • Steve

    The ctiy of Deer Park says that their city water is feed through a pipe from Loon Lake so the city is not effected by the Hirst Act. So explain, please, why taking water from my well, 105 feet deep, is hurting the stream flow but taking water from a lake that helps feed the stream has no affect. Just asking.

  • Terry Melvin

    Time to follow the money in regards to the so-called Hirst “decision”. See which politicians’ buddies start buying up the rural land once it has become devalued, thanks to this cronyist legislation. That’s mainly how Democrats in this state, and the country for that matter, do business.