Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

The Hirst Decision and Its Legislative Aftermath: An Update

By Kate Hambley

As reported in the March issue of the Bar Bulletin,1 in October the Washington Supreme Court issued a controversial decision in the case of Hirst v. Whatcom County,2 holding that counties have an independent duty to protect water resources under the Growth Management Act (GMA), and cannot simply defer to the Department of Ecology’s rules governing water availability.

Unchecked, the decision would have curbed rural development that relies on “permit-exempt wells,” i.e., small, residential wells that do not require permits from the Department of Ecology.3 In the early months of the 2017 legislative session, four bills designed to roll back Hirst were introduced in the Legislature — two in the Republican-controlled...

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