U.S. Water News Online
OLYMPIA, WASH. -- The Washington Supreme Court has ruled
against a common use of a state water law exemption that makes rural
property development easier.
The exemption allows a single well to draw as much as 5,000
gallons of water per day without a water-right permit from the
Department of Ecology. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that
developers can't drill multiple wells that each draw less than 5,000
gallons but collectively draw more than the limit.
``The Legislature did not intend unlimited use of the exemption
for domestic uses, and did not intend that water appropriation for
such uses be wholly unregulated,'' Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for
State Attorney General Christine Gregoire argued the exemption was
intended for a single home or farm, not large subdivisions.
Kristopher Tefft, an attorney for the Building Industry
Association of Washington, said builders and developers in rural
areas will be hamstrung by the ruling.
``This decision will make rural growth and economic development
more difficult and costly,'' Tefft said. ``And it will stifle
efficient development to the detriment of affordable housing.''
With a backlog of applications for water right permits now
exceeding 7,000, developers say they have few options for quickly
supplying new homes with water.
State officials are reluctant to issue new water rights in many
areas of the state, where they fear streams are already too low for
struggling salmon stocks.
Environmental groups applauded the court's decision.
``Anybody who wants to use a large amount of water has to go
through a process to show that there is water available -- and that
using that water isn't going to harm existing water right holders or
the environment,'' said Michael Rossotto, legal director for the
Washington Environmental Council.
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