Permanent Hirst fix and capital budget: Washington citizens deserve both

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category icon Columns, Opinion

By Rep. Liz Pike, Guest Columnist

I share the frustrations of many that the Legislature adjourned July 20 after a record 193 days in session without passing a capital construction budget.

This $4 billion budget funds statewide infrastructure and projects, including school construction, playfields, parks, water and sewer projects, and acquisition of land for recreational use and preservation. Locally, there are nearly $40 million in projects awaiting capital budget funding, including $5.2 million for development of Clark College’s satellite campus in Ridgefield. These job-creating projects are important to our local communities and matter to all of us. But so does water!

There’s a deeper frustration over the House’s refusal to pass a permanent Hirst fix.

Last October, in Whatcom County vs. Hirst, Futurewise, et al. (Hirst decision), the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Whatcom County failed to protect water resources under the Growth Management Act. This extremely flawed decision means rural and suburban landowners with undeveloped properties may never be able to drill a well on their property unless they can prove not a single drop of water would be removed from instream flows. An instream flow is a water right for a river or a stream that protects and preserves instream resources like fish habitat.

It’s important to note that water drawn from private, single-family wells uses less than one percent of all the state’s water, yet this miniscule group is being targeted as if it is the largest water user. Most small landowners can’t afford to hire an expensive hydrologist for underground tests. Neither can county governments, so some counties have stopped granting building permits. Without water, banks won’t issue property loans, development is blocked, and these lands lose their market value, devastating rural families’ investments, retirement plans and dreams for a new home.

Urban centers like Seattle draw their water from rural underground aquifers, allowing their residents to build homes, apartments and commercial centers. Yet, rural residents could be denied access to their own water being delivered to cities. Futurewise, the extreme environmental group behind the Hirst decision, turned back 100 years of water law so they could shut down rural development and force people to live in cities. It truly is the most severe urban attack against rural private property rights in Washington’s history.

Make no mistake — city dwellers are not immune from Hirst repercussions. As rural property values plummet, property taxes will be shifted to the rest of us who remain standing. That means all of us with access to water will pay higher property taxes if Hirst is not reversed.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, is a state representative for Washington’s 18th District, which includes Camas and Washougal. Pike also served on the Camas City Council from 2003 to 2007, prior to becoming a state legislator.