Rural Water Supply / "Hirst" Decision

Because of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling commonly known as the "Hirst" decision, rural water issues are rapidly evolving. This web page will be updated as new information is available.  We  encourage you to visit this page again in the coming months.

Please see the following links to requested resources:


Water typically comes from private wells in rural areas. Wells are regulated by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). The cost for drilling a well can be significant and the quality and quantity of well water can vary considerably from location to location and from season to season.

Most private wells are exempt from obtaining a water right and are often called “permit exempt wells”. Water use from a permit exempt well is limited to 5,000 gallons per day for domestic use, an unlimited quantity for irrigation of ½ acre of lawn and garden, 5,000 gallons per day for industrial/commercial use, and an unlimited quantity for stock watering. Some parcels do include water rights, but the extent and validity of the rights should be researched carefully.

The challenge facing many rural areas is the assurance that there is adequate water supply for an increasing number of exempt wells. Complicating this is the understanding that aquifers that are hydrogeologically connected to surface water can impact stream flows. This, in turn, jeopardizes minimum instream flows required to maintain healthy aquatic life and recreational opportunities.

Water Availability

Water Availability - whether physical or legal - is an evolving topic. The Department of Ecology (Ecology) is working toward rural water supply strategies that will protect instream flows and senior water rights holders while not precluding all rural development. Ecology is engaging with stakeholders to discuss potential options, update guidance for determining water availability and implement water supply projects. This simple diagram reflects all 3 approaches.
Rural Water Supply Organization Chart
If you are interested in following progress on Rural Water Supply discussion and decisions, the County recommends visiting this Ecology webpage.