Posted by Melissa Lynn Galland on Mar 16, 2017 9:00:00 AM
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If you live in Spokane County, you might have heard about a recent Washington Supreme Court decision that affects how counties decide to approve or deny building permits that use wells for a water source. If you are in the process of building a home or plan to build one in the future, the Hirst decision could affect your project, so it’s important to understand the changes.

Prior to the Hirst decision, counties had the option to rely on the Department of Ecology’s opinion about whether year-round water was available for a new home or development. This new court decision has changed the requirement such that counties must now make their own decisions about whether or not there is enough water to approve a building permit that would rely on a well.

How the Hirst Decision Affects Spokane County

Although not every county has yet been affected by the Hirst decision, there are parts of Spokane County that have been impacted by the new rules. The new requirements for getting a well permit if you’re building a new home include:

  • Building and/or well permits may be granted only if your well is 100 to 500 feet from other wells, with the exact distance based on the aquifer composition.

  • If your well meets the distance criteria, you can work with a geologist or professional engineer to do a hydrology study.

  • If the study concludes that installation of a new well on your property will not drop water levels in wells within your area 10 feet or more, you may be issued a permit.

The cost of this type of study will vary depending on the provider and the site conditions, but you can expect it to be between $1,000 and $4,000.

Location Matters

The above rules apply to most of Spokane County, but there are areas where building permits will not be issued. If you plan to build in Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 55, also known as the Little Spokane watershed, in the northeast corner of the county, you will not get a permit if you are planning to or have already installed a well. For example, if you already own land and have installed a well and have done some site preparation, you will not be issued a building permit to complete construction of a home.

This region includes popular building areas such as Deer Park, Chattaroy, and Elk. However, if you plan to build in neighboring Stevens County, although it is in the same watershed, you would be granted a permit because of a clause in the decision. Fortunately, Spokane County is considering measures that would mitigate the Hirst decision by creating a water bank to buy and sell water rights from nearby counties to people in the affected watershed. The initial feasibility study has been completed, and officials are now working through the details of implementation. If the strategy proceeds as planned, homeowners in WRIA 55 would be able to buy rights to use a well on their property with a one-time fee that is currently estimated at between $2,000 and $5,000.

Unfortunately, if you have already drilled a well and the county determines that there is not enough water available to use it, you will not be issued a building permit. However, you may be able to use rainwater collection, trucked water, or cisterns as other potential sources of water.

The Building Industry’s Response

The Hirst decision clearly impacts potential homeowners in some areas of Spokane County and others across the state. The Building Industry Association of Washington has created a website with valuable information about the impacts of the decision, the latest news, and the approach that each county is taking. The site also includes recommendations for solutions that can mitigate the impacts of the decision on homeowners and people who own land in the affected areas.

Adair Homes monitors regulatory issues like the Hirst decision and others to help you make smart decisions about purchasing land and securing permits. Building a home might feel like a daunting process, especially with an ever-changing regulatory landscape, but you don’t have to do it alone. Our team of professionals is here to help you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about building a new home in Spokane County or Washington State.