Water bills' chances remain murky
January 30, 2003
OLYMPIA -- Bill Hahn of Kitsap Public Utility District holds out
hope that proposed changes to water law will free up water utilities
to do the right thing.
One goal of the current set of bills is to help water districts and water right holders deal with growth by providing flexibility to change where and how water is used under a vested water right.
Over the past two days, Hahn has testified on water bills -- first in the House and then in the Senate. He expressed optimism that something could happen to benefit water system managers throughout the state.
"I think it has a chance," he said. "It's the most optimistic that we've been."
Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, sees a chance for the bills to pass, but says it's too early to tell what will happen.
"There are a lot of people with interest, and they're all over the map," said Rockefeller, who is vice-chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. "There seems to be some sense of possibility from just listening to the comments."
Rockefeller is the primary sponsor of HB 1337, which deals with easing the transfer of water rights to an additional or replacement well. The bill is included in a package of bills proposed by Gov. Gary Locke.
Rockefeller admits that he is new to water issues and needs to listen to much more testimony before he fully understands the concerns. He's been working closely with Hahn and Kitsap PUD.
"To meet the needs of Kitsap and the Kitsap PUD in particular, I hope we can move on," he said.
Two hours of testimony was taken by the House Agriculture and Nature Resources Committee, with each speaker taking three to four minutes. Not all of the 60 people signed up to speak could, so the hearing will continue at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The reason for so much interest, Hahn explained, is that the bill will affect many separate utility districts -- from the largest, such as those in Seattle, to the smallest, including rural systems located on islands.
Hahn submitted more than a dozen pages of comments and suggestions, as well as an alternate bill for lawmakers to consider. Several other speakers did the same.
Much of the concern has to do with small wording changes that could make a lot of difference in what water right owners can and can't do.
"There were things ... that were put in the (governor's) bill that could have unintended consequences," Hahn said.
Hahn said under current legislation, Kitsap PUD can't get water to where it needs it without going through a long process of application and negotiation with the Department of Ecology. He gave an example of a request he submitted nearly 10 years ago that hasn't seen any action.
"Many systems around the state will just do what they want," Hahn said.