"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.

On November 1, 2016 Spokane County adopted an interim zoning ordinance to implement the holdings of the Hirst Decision.  The ordinance specified the requirements for a building permit applicant to demonstrate they have legally available water for the proposed building.  Spokane County continues to identify changes to effectively implement the holdings of the "Hirst" Decision.  On January 10, 2017 an updated interim zoning ordinance was adopted.  A public hearing was conducted on February 21, 2017 to receive and consider public testimony on the updated interim zoning ordinance.

1/31/18 UPDATE:  Ordinance Repealed
On 1/30/18, the Spokane County Commissioners repealed the interim building ordinance. Please see the simplified requirements to get a building permit using a permit exempt well in Spokane County. This is very much like what existed before the Hirst Decision but there are some changes.

1/25/18 ANNOUNCEMENT:  Spokane County Commissioners to Consider Repealing Interim Ordinance
On Friday, January 19, 2018, the Washington State Legislature passed, and the governor signed, Senate Bill 6091. This now means the Spokane County Commissioners will consider a repeal of the County's temporary interim zoning ordinance. If repealed, the requirements for building permits are simplified. Please read this press release online for more details...

12/18/17 ANNOUNCEMENT:  Accepting Applications for WRIA 55 Stream Flow Mitigation Certificates beginning 12/20/17
10/25/17 ANNOUNCEMENT:  Little Spokane Water Bank Update 

Little Spokane Water Bank Draft Approved Mitigation Area

Spokane County developed a water bank to address legal water availability in the Little Spokane Watershed (WRIA 55) resulting from the Washington Supreme Court decision in Whatcom County v. Hirst (Hirst Decision).  The restriction on the issuance of building permits in WRIA 55, that will rely on a new water use, are a result of the Little Spokane River Instream Flow Rule (WAC 173-555).  As a result of WAC 173-555, no new uses can be established that impact stream flow in WRIA 55.

If a new use is mitigated by the retirement and placement in trust of an existing water right then the new use can be allowed.  Spokane County has purchased, transferred, and placed in trust an existing water right and offers stream flow mitigation certificates based on that water right in trust to property owners within the approved mitigation area at an appropriate cost.  The approved mitigation area is based on the location of the existing water right that will be placed in trust.

Spokane County and the Department of Ecology agreed to a mitigation area for the first water right that was placed in the water bank.  A map depicting the mitigation area is available here.  Parcels that fall within the approved mitigation area are eligible to purchase a stream flow mitigation certificate if they wish.  Spokane County is currently working on the acquisition of additional water rights that would expand the approved mitigation area.
The Spokane County Board of Commissioners is also developing policies to govern the operation of the water bank.  The polices will be implemented through a county ordinance.  Policies will include eligibility criteria, mitigation certificate cost, and quantity of water per certificate.  We will provide additional information as the policies are developed.

Please be aware that in addition to purchasing a stream flow mitigation certificate, building permit applicants will also need to adhere to the well spacing and setback requirements designed to demonstrate that the new use will not impair an existing senior groundwater use.

6/22/17 ANNOUNCEMENT:  Updated Ordinance and July 11 Public Hearing
An updated interim zoning ordinance was approved on June 13, 2017 which replaces the prior ordinance on processing Building Permits in Spokane County.  A public hearing will be held to receive and consider public testimony.  The hearing will occur at 5:30 pm on July 11, 2017 in the Commissioner's Hearing Room in the Lower Level of the Public Works Building, located at 1026 W. Broadway.
Per above, this ordinance was repealed on 1/30/18 but here is information about it.
Revised interim ordinance No. 17-0537
This document shows the changes to the January 10, 2017 ordinance with additions underlined and deletions indicated.  Scroll down to Attachment "A" beginning on page 7 for the regulation language.   Below is a summary of the changes:

  • Addition of provisions to allow for the use of one well shared by two residences. Please note a shared well in WRIA 55 does not alleviate the need to address impacts to stream flow, which can be addressed with a mitigation certificate from the forthcoming Little Spokane Water Bank.
  • Addition of provisions to allow for the use of mitigation certificates in WRIA 55. Please note that mitigation certificates are not yet available from the Little Spokane Water Bank. The County anticipates that mitigation certificates will be available in late fall of 2017.
  • Addition of the same setback requirements in WRIA 55 as in other parts of the Spokane County. Mitigation certificates address impacts to stream flow; the setback requirements address adjacent senior water rights. Both are necessary in WRIA 55.
  • In addition to a licensed hydrogeologist or professional engineer, a licensed water well driller can make aquifer designations for use in aquifer dependent lateral setbacks.
  • A hydrogeologic report that demonstrates a smaller setback will not result in greater than a 10 foot drawdown on an adjacent well, must now address the cumulative impacts of all new wells put into use since October 26, 2016.
July 11, 2017 Public Hearing
This document has complete meeting details.
Please see the following links to resources:

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