Water and Property Rights

The rent is too darned high, making homelessness even worse.  Government is responsible for much of the increased cost of housing.

The most basic purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property.   Our State government and the Department of Ecology have failed to protect the water and property rights of the people in our district. Their inadequate decisions will cause our rent and property taxes to go even higher. Here’s why.

NOTE: Scroll down for an update on current legislation.

Your rent and/or property taxes will skyrocket because the Washington State Supreme Court’s “Hirst Decision” in October 2016 made water rights so uncertain and unpredictable that now people cannot take the risk of building a home in many areas of the countryside, particularly in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties. Some banks are refusing to give loans for building homes unless a well on that property was approved and dug before October 2016. This uncertainty brings building in those areas to a standstill, and then the local businesses that sell to the builders and homeowners lose money too because their customers stop buying things for their homes and their daily life. Why does this make everyone’s rent and property taxes go up? Because of the way your county taxes are figured. Your County Council or County Board of Commissioners decides what their county budget will be each year, and then each homeowner (or landlord) pays a piece of that total pie. When some of those homeowners or landlords are removed from the ‘pie’ because they can’t build, the remaining homeowners have to pay a larger slice of the pie. Even if you are a renter, your rent will go up because the landlord will have to pay more taxes to the County.

There were some good solutions to this problem presented in the Legislature during the 2017 Session, but these bills were blocked by urban Seattle legislators who believe it’s preferable to force everyone to move to the city. This may sound shocking to some, but even rural Democrat legislators like Senator Tim Sheldon (35th LD) are now publishing op-eds admitting “…our state’s environmental groups have worked with like-minded legislators to force ever-greater numbers into densely populated cities, apparently with the thought that the rest of the state ought to be set aside as a nature preserve.” (Washington State Wire, June 22, 2017)

Our Legislature needs more people with backbone to stand up to these urban bullies. I was awarded “2015 State Representative of the Year” by CAPR, Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights, for my work on a dozen bills increasing protections for property and water, because these issues have been increasingly affecting the people in my district. During my four years serving as State Representative, I also received the “Friend of the Farmer” award from Washington State Farm Bureau several times, as well as endorsements from the Affordable Housing Council. For several years, I’ve met with constituents and participated in citizen meetings about property and water rights in places from Marblemount to Sedro-Woolley to Monroe. After all, government’s top role is to protect life, liberty, and property, the three-legged stool of freedom and prosperity. I ask for your support to help send me back to Olympia.

 

Update on legislation:

The so-called “Hirst fix” bill that was passed by the State House and Senate on January 17, 2018 had some good pieces and bad pieces to it, but unfortunately it is especially bad for residents in our district. In a nutshell, residents in the Skagit River watershed area are left out of the ‘fixes’ in Senate Bill 6091 (ESSB 6091) and have received no solution to the problems created by the WA Supreme Court regarding the use of water wells. They continue to be in limbo and at the whim of the Department of Ecology. I’ll reiterate that water wells account for less than 1% of the annual water consumption in Washington State. What we need is certainty and protection of water law that has existed in this state for over a century.

Even in the areas not in the Skagit River watershed, ‘fixes’ in this bill do not bode well for our future.

-People wanting to dig a new domestic-use well must pay a new $500 fee for local government water planning costs and for the Department of Ecology to manage the new water programs. (Thus housing increases in cost again.)

-The State Legislature voted to spend an extra $300 million for water restoration and enhancement projects. This is on top of recent enormous expenditures including the largest land-grab in our state history, for the purpose of water enhancement.

-A “pilot program” for metering wells in two areas not in our district (upper Kittitas and on the Olympic Peninsula) should prove that exempt water wells are a de minimus use of water  and don’t impact stream flows. Will DOE accept that scientific proof? Or will the Legislature decide to expand metering to all wells across the state, even though most water from a rural domestic-use well, after it is cleaned by microbes in the septic tank, is eventually returned either to the same aquifer from which it was drawn or to the groundwater – cleaner than city water funneled into Puget Sound?

There were a few good aspects to ESSB 6091. The requirement for property owners to pay for individual hydrogeologic studies was removed. Water management was returned to the Department of Ecology instead of the counties, who really aren’t set up for it and who had complained that they didn’t have the manpower for it, therefore in many counties they had shut down the permitting process for new wells, causing building to come to a standstill. The limits in some watersheds are not as bad as they were in some drafts of the bill, although it’s useful to remember that in the very recent past, there was a 5,000 gallon a day limit; this bill sets it between 950 and 3,000 gallons a day depending on the watershed, although it can be curtailed by DOE to 350 gallons a day, house-use only, during a drought, with an exemption for creating a firebreak.

But clearly, we have our work cut out for us when it comes to restoring and protecting water rights in our district. Water wells, again, account for less than 1% of the annual water consumption in Washington State. Furthermore, the USGS has been measuring river flows for over seven decades and there is no evidence that we had diminishing flows prior to Ecology’s in-stream flow rules, and more importantly, no evidence of improved flows after implementation.  Ecology’s water management scheme has had a major impact on the people of this state, but zero impact on the natural environment.

 

It is time to rein in Ecology’s authority, because they are unaccountable to the People. When Ecology wants a new regulation, they should be required to run it by the Legislature first, because legislators are directly accountable to the People and can be replaced if they are ignoring their constituents’ pain. When a building permit is $30,000, it costs another $8,000 to hook up the public water system, and $4,000 to hook up to the city sewer system, how can a builder possibly build “affordable” housing? $42,000 spent, and you haven’t moved a shovel full of dirt or bought a single stick of wood.  These numbers are from Mount Vernon, and they vary slightly with individual projects, but they are very typical in Skagit County which covers a significant part of the 39th District.

 

Let’s decrease the cost of housing by reining in the agencies’ power, restoring water law that served us well for many decades, and protecting people’s property rights.