Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Since my last email update to you on Jan. 25 in which I reported about the passage of a Hirst water rights solution, I have received many calls, letters and emails from constituents in the Skagit River Basin. They want to know why the Hirst solution didn’t include them.
It’s a legitimate question and I deeply share their concern.
The Skagit lawsuit
For background, the Skagit River Basin is under a 2013 Washington State Supreme Court order, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community vs. Washington State Department of Ecology, that predated the 2016 state Supreme Court Hirst ruling. In this order, the court ruled in favor of a lawsuit by the Swinomish Tribe challenging Skagit River minimum instream flow rules. An instream flow is a water right for a river or a stream that protects and preserves instream resources like fish habitat.
The ruling essentially locked up nearly 800 parcels of existing private property from water use and well development. It also caused property values to plummet by more than $22 million.
Hopes for a Skagit fix along with a Hirst fix
As you know, negotiations on a Hirst fix were contentious, complicated and lengthy. The court decision had curbed the drilling of permit-exempt wells throughout the state, resulting in the denial of building permits on certain private property, banks saying “no” to mortgage loans on affected property, and millions of dollars in potential development put at risk. Hirst was essentially the Skagit ruling, only on a much larger scale. So it made sense that the folks affected by the Skagit ruling were hoping we could also get a fix to overcome those egregious restrictions as we got a Hirst fix.
As House Republican leader, I was involved in the Hirst negotiation process — and while I was trying to fix the other parts of the state to restore their water rights, getting a fix back home to restore water rights in the Skagit River Basin, which takes up nearly half of my district, is extremely important to me.
In the end, we had the fix for the rest of the state, but we were unable to convince negotiators, supported by the tribes, to move forward within Hirst on a fix for the Skagit River Basin. So it came down to this decision: Do I sacrifice more than 90 percent of the state’s water rights and stand against a Hirst fix until we have movement on Skagit? Or do I approve a Hirst fix and work separately on a fix for the Skagit River Basin. I made the second choice.
Please watch my video to learn the reason we accepted Hirst and our fight for the Skagit River Basin.
Once we passed Senate Bill 6091, the so-called Hirst fix, I immediately had our House Republican water negotiator, Rep. David Taylor, introduce legislation on Jan. 26 to address the Skagit River Basin water rights issue. The measure, House Bill 2937, was referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Unfortunately, majority Democrats who control the agenda in the House, have refused to give the bill a public hearing, After having to make significant compromises with Hirst, a couple of Democratic committee chairs have said water is such a sensitive issue in their caucus that they are reluctant to even bring up the issue.
This has been very frustrating. The Skagit River Basin is among the most water-saturated areas in the state. Property owners look out their windows to the snow-covered Cascades along the eastern border of Skagit County, and yet they cannot use their water because special interests have a hold on majority lawmakers in Olympia. That’s wrong!
I am NOT giving up. I want all citizens in the Skagit River Basin to know we have NOT forgotten about you. I will continue to fight on your behalf to ensure a solution for the Skagit River water resource area, just as we have done with Hirst.
If you haven’t yet watched my video, I strongly encourage you to do so. It will help you understand my position on this issue. Together with your support, our fight to restore your Skagit River water rights has just begun.
In your service,