Disagreement on fairness of water rights bill sparks heated debate in House

The House of Representatives passed a bill adding more costs to those who apply for water rights with the state. Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, voted against the bill due to an amendment attached to the legislation on the House floor.

Senate Bill 6267 as passed the Senate would have provided full-cost reimbursement to the state in exchange for expedited water rights applications. Currently, water rights applications have been languishing, sometimes for 20 years or longer.

But an amendment made on the House floor essentially attached House Bill 2591, which was deferred after a contentious debate in the House two weeks ago, to Senate Bill 6267. That bill would have increased fees for the application of a water right as well as required registration of an exempt well.

“As passed, the legislation is more about the Department of Ecology collecting exorbitant fees than actually getting the water right paperwork moving and ensuring landowners can access water on their property,” Smith said. “Home owners, employers, farmers, cities and everyone trying to access water could file for a water right and pay the excessive fees authorized under the bill, and still not have a guarantee they will be able to access water on their land.”

Under the bill, people who have been in line for decades will be charged a fee to keep their place, Smith explained. If they cannot afford or forget to pay the fee, they would lose their place in line. This bill would also create a disparity between those who have the money to cut to the front of the line, and those who do not have the means to pay.

Smith said the fee increase, which would amount to a 500 to 1000 percent increase, is an additional hardship on growers struggling to remain viable in Washington. It would also be difficult for municipalities.

“When legislation is focused solely on collecting money without regard for the impact it will have one our agriculture community, it is very disappointing,” Smith said. “Our agriculture industry is a powerhouse for employment and an economic driver for the state, but this industry needs water – not more government bureaucracy. We should do all we can to help the hard-working farming families be successful. Instead this bill would further erode our agricultural economic base.”

Smith said the fees in Senate Bill 6267 would not be needed if Democrat budget writers had not diverted funds from the water resources program.

“The people of this state, who have a right to water to build homes and work their land are having their hopes dashed when they are denied water by agency inaction or politics rather than sound science. This is simply the wrong direction for our state,” Smith said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration of the amendments made in the House.


Washington State House Republican Communications