The Whatcom County Council is restricting new rural developments that rely on domestic wells for another six weeks, much shorter than the six months originally before them.
Six months would have taken them through the end of the session for the Legislature, which the council hopes can remedy the fallout from a state Supreme Court decision that said Whatcom County failed to protect water resources as required by the Growth Management Act.
The council voted 4-3 for the six-week extension after a public hearing and lengthy discussion Tuesday night. Council members Barbara Brenner, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer were the “no” votes.
Property owners in rural Whatcom County have been upset and frustrated because they can’t build homes on their land without access to drinking water.
Council members want to provide what relief they can to those property owners who already were in the process of building their homes when the Supreme Court’s decision led the council to halt rural developments affected by the ruling.
That seemed to be the reason behind shortening the timeline to six weeks.
The council will meet next week to learn how many property owners have been caught in the middle and to define how far along they must be in the process to get help, possibly by being allowed to proceed with their project but at their own risk.
Brenner had wanted an emergency ordinance that would’ve taken effect immediately, but was voted down before members settled on six weeks.
The Supreme Court ruled in October that before issuing a building permit, the county must make sure there is enough water – both legally and physically – in streams for fish and those holding senior water rights.
Its ruling in what’s known as the Hirst decision reached beyond Whatcom to other counties, which also placed restrictions on new developments in rural areas that rely on what are known as permit-exempt wells.
The high court’s decision overturned a February 2015 state Court of Appeals ruling that favored the county.
In doing so, the Supreme Court sided with the Growth Management Hearings Board. It sent the case back to the board for the next steps. The county has until May to comply with the ruling.
Lummi and Eliza islands, Point Roberts and the Lake Samish area that is in Whatcom County aren’t affected by the restriction because they’re in different water basins.