State Supreme Court: Whatcom must restrict rural wells to protect water supply – Bellingham Herald

The State Supreme Court has ruled that the cumulative effects of granting blanket water rights without taking into consideration their impact on water is illegal. The County Realtors fought this. They are affected by this because of it’s possible impact on sales (they weren’t concerned about whether the properties they sold had water, nor if the river could support salmon, apparently). This has impact here because both our county and Clallam, especially Clallam with the Dungeness River restoration, are affected by this. Luckily for Dungeness, a long standing group of concerned citizens has come together to work out the issues. Only a few outliers, mainly private property owners, are fighting it. The Dungeness River Management Team has been working together for over 20 years on the issue, and making great progress.

Whatcom County must make sure there is enough available water before issuing permits for new developments in rural areas, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Oct. 6. The decision overturned a February 2015 state Court of Appeals ruling, which had favored the county by saying, in effect, that the county did not need stricter rules to regulate water wells on rural properties. Kie Relyea reports. (Bellingham Herald)

The core decision:

“The GMA requires counties to ensure an adequate water supply before granting a building permit or subdivision application. The County merely follows the Department of Ecology’s “Nooksack Rule”; 1 it assumes there is an adequate supply to provide water for a permit-exempt well unless Ecology has expressly closed that area to permit-exempt appropriations. This results in the County’s granting building permits for houses and subdivisions to be supplied by a permit-exempt well even if the cumulative effect of exempt wells in a watershed reduces the flow in a water course below the minimum instream flow. We therefore hold that the County’s comprehensive plan does not satisfy the GMA requirement to protect water availability and that its remaining arguments are unavailing. We reverse the Court of Appeals in part and remand to the Board for further proceedings.”

2 Responses

  1. The majority opinion was written by Justice Wiggins. He is up for reelection on November 8; please remember to vote down the ballot. And also vote for incumbents Yu and Madsen (she wrote a good concurring opinion).

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