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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill could allow more new wells for domestic use

OLYMPIA – The Legislature’s latest attempt to revise state water law to allow more wells in rural and suburban areas got support from the head of the agency that would help make it work but strong criticism Monday from property owners and tribal representatives.

The measure, which sponsor Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, acknowledged was “not a perfect bill” and subject to change, would make it much easier to get a permit for a well that would supply 400 gallons of water per day for indoor domestic use.

Over the next five years, special committees in key areas where water quality or quantity is threatened would develop new guidelines known as Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Plans.

Maia Bellon, director of the state Ecology Department which would oversee parts of the proposed system, said it would provide a structure for long-term sustainability of the state’s water supplies. The 400-gallon per day allowance for indoor domestic use offers a legal supply of water while recognizing water is “a finite resource,” she said.

It also recognizes differences between Eastern and Western Washington, Bellon told the Senate Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee.

But some landowners who have been denied well permits since the state Supreme Court handed down a ruling early last year that calls for more local oversight and control over water permits, said the bill is too complicated.

“It causes more complexity. It just muddies the waters,” Kathy Sabel of Bellingham, said. “There must be a simpler solution.”

Rodney Cawston, of the Colville Confederated Tribes, said each watershed is different and he was concerned about possible restrictions that could hamper tribal efforts to have water to fight wildfires.

“A statewide, one-size-fits-all water solution does not exist,” Cawston said.

Amendments to the bill could be proposed before Thursday, when the committee is currently scheduled to vote on it.

Legislation to address problems from the Supreme Court decision on water rights law has been a requirement by Senate Republicans to vote for the $4.4 billion capital construction budget.