The measure would allow property owners to build in the Skagit River basins but limit how much water they could withdraw daily.
Swift action in the Legislature could allow dozens of property owners to build on their land for the first time since area creek basins closed last summer.
But opponents of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, said the legislation would open the gates to “virtually unlimited (residential well) drilling in all tributary basins in the Skagit River.”
The state Department of Ecology closed the Fisher-Carpenter creek basins to residential wells when the agency determined too much water was being withdrawn to support healthy salmon populations. The closure means property owners in the basins are not allowed to build homes on their land, some of whom had already spent more than $10,000 to site wells there.
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Since then, about a dozen owners have appealed the closure, and a hearing is set for later this year. However, the legislative solution in Senate Bill 6312, sponsored by Haugen, would allow owners to build so long as they do not withdraw more than 350 gallons per day.
“It’s draconian, the way this land was taken from us,” said Travis Stanton, who owns property in the Fisher-Carpenter basin in Snohomish County.
The property owners had become caught in a 15-year dust-up among Skagit County, the Swinomish Tribe and the city of Anacortes over water rights in the Skagit River valley. A 1996 agreement and 2006 amendment established in part that fish, including threatened chinook salmon, have a senior water right.
Zachory Barborinas, who owns property in Snohomish County, said that without the legislation, property owners could be tied up for years in litigation and still might not ever be able to use their property.
Some solutions include trucking water or creating special taxing districts to pay for piped water (at more than $1 million per linear mile of pipe). “Totally unreasonable,” said Haugen.
Wells for residential use are generally exempt from permitting requirements for water rights, per state law. Those types of wells are typically allowed 5,000 gallons per day for residential and agricultural use. Haugen’s bill would allow only 350 gallons per day per home.
Anacortes Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer said the concern for the city of Anacortes is that the bill bypasses the 1996 agreement among several agencies, including Skagit County, the Swinomish Tribe and Anacortes, which, in part, establishes a minimum flow for tributary streams to ensure the survival of salmon.