Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

The Hirst Decision and Its Legislative Aftermath

by Kate Hambley

Last fall, the Washington Supreme Court issued a controversial Growth Management Act (GMA) decision — Whatcom County v. Hirst1 — that promises to have significant effect on rural development in the state. The decision holds that counties cannot rely on the Department of Ecology’s rules governing small, private wells (or “permit-
exempt” wells) in a watershed, but must independently determine whether water is legally available for development in rural areas.

Supporters of the decision say that it will protect senior water rights and curb sprawling development in rural areas. Opponents say that the decision infringes on Ecology’s role in water permitting, and that it will put an...

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