Supreme Court strikes a blow against
exempt wells -
by Tim Ford
Olympia, WA - 3/28/02 - The WA Supreme Court came out with another bad decision. The vote was 5-4 and Justice Owens (from Forks) authored a dissenting opinion stating, "The decision today tolls the bell for growth and growth management in rural Washington".
The case is called Dept. of Ecology v. Campbell
& Gwinn. The majority interprets RCW 90.44.050 to create new
legislative policy that narrows the use of exempt wells. The
exempt well provision allows an owner or developer to drill a well for
single or group domestic uses provided that the withdrawal of water does
not exceed 5,000 gallons a day. If you fall within the plain
language of this statutory exemption, then you do not need to apply for
a permit. This is important for rural counties where extending a
water system may not be economically feasible.
The Superior Court judge ruled against Ecology,
stating that the plain language of the law allows individual withdrawals
less than 5,000 gpd to be counted as a separate withdrawals. The
case went directly to the WA Supreme Court where a narrow majority
admitted that Ecology does not define withdrawal yet proceeded to give
Ecology a victory based not on the plain language of the statute but
upon a policy "goal of regulation to assure protection of existing
(water) rights and the public interest". Ecology never
introduced any evidence or facts at trial to demonstrate an impairment
of an existing water right.
Tim Ford is an attorney
with the BIAW [Building Industry Association of Washington].
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