Winter/Spring – 2017 (Article #1)
Getting a building permit has become more complicated as a result of a Whatcom County court case called the Hirst decision, which has statewide effects.
It basically used to be ‘if you’ve got it, use it’, but it now appears to be ‘if you’ve got it, prove it’ – water, that is. Before this case, an applicant for a building permit had to show Spokane County that water was physically and legally available, but this court case now makes it so that the county can “no longer simply accept an applicant’s recitation potable water will be provided through a permit exempt well” (Resolution #17-0059). What does that mean? Well, essentially, an applicant can no longer go to the county with a statement to the effect of, “My water will come from a well.”
How does this affect Green Bluff? Spokane County is divided into Water Resource Inventory Areas (“WRIAs”), and Green Bluff is in WRIA 55, the Little Spokane Watershed, which is a very limited water availability area. The Hirst decision has made it almost impossible now to build in WRIA 55 without a water right. If you have a water right, not only might you be able to build, you potentially have a very valuable resource. Determining whether you have a water right can be complicated, which is why you need to do your research. You can start by reading the Department of Ecology’s publication called Focus on Assessing Your Water Right (publication #97-1804-WR).
Why does this matter? Some property owners are being solicited to sell all or portions of their water right so that these rights can be stored in a “water bank” to sell to others who want to obtain a building permit. The appeal of getting money for water may seem attractive at first, but is selling your water right a good decision? It depends. How are you using your water right? What are your future plans?
Those who are farming could be most dramatically impacted. If you’re using your water for irrigation of crops or orchards, when you sell that water right you lose your use of that water. Without that water, could you sustain your current farming operation? Some have been told that they can convert to dryland farming, but would that really be a viable option? Consider the costs of conversion, the cost of tearing out an orchard, the cost of getting new equipment, and the long-term effects on your property and future marketability without a water right to go with it. If you could no longer sustain your current farming operation and it wouldn’t make sense to convert to dryland farming, you may have to remove your property from an Agricultural Tax designation, which would have dramatic financial consequences. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that, but you should have the information that you need to make a decision that’s best for you. There are some publications from the Department of Ecology and Spokane County that give more details to get you started, which are available on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CodyKerrRealtor.