Supreme Court decision on water case may prove costly for rural landowners

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Washington Farm Bureau condemns Hirst decision by Washington Supreme Court


In the long-awaited Hirst decision, the Washington State Supreme Court held today that “the County failed to meet its duty under the (Growth Management Act) to ensure water was factually and legally available before they issue building permits,” and that county compliance with an Ecology-adopted instream flow rule was not sufficient.

“We are working to understand the full impact of this case, and how it may affect Whatcom County and other counties,” said Washington Farm Bureau President Mike LaPlant. “One thing is clear. This is a significant case and the court’s decision is a major disappointment for the Farm Bureau, counties and rural landowners across the state.

However, this is exactly what you are going to get with this ultra-liberal court, LaPlant said.

The Hirst decision appears to mean that even in a water-rich county like Whatcom they will now need to make independent determinations of legal water availability and prove new withdrawals won’t impair existing water users, LaPlant said.

“This decision seems unreasonable when the water experts at the Department of Ecology have developed a rule that declares there is domestic water available for homes in most rural parts of Whatcom County,” he said. “Given the tests this court has put forward in this and previous cases, it may prove extremely difficult and costly for farmers and rural landowners to secure the water they need to build a home.”

LaPlant added that the Hirst case depends on the court’s reading of how the state’s Growth Management Act and Ecology instream flow rules interact.

By siding with the environmental plaintiffs, the Supreme Court appears to have made Washington one of the only states where rural landowners cannot depend on a small amount of water to build a rural home under a domestic exempt well, he said.

The decision can be found at:




Washington Farm Bureau is a 46,000-member advocacy organization representing family farmers and
ranchers across the state. For more information about the Washington Farm Bureau go to
To speak with Washington Farm Bureau on this topic, please contact John Stuhlmiller at or (360) 357-9975.