Politics & Government

GOP compares Washington property-rights dispute to plight of millions without safe water

A tweet posted Monday by the Senate Republican Caucus about the ongoing debate in the water-rights case known as Hirst. The tweet was later deleted.
A tweet posted Monday by the Senate Republican Caucus about the ongoing debate in the water-rights case known as Hirst. The tweet was later deleted.

Republicans in Washington state took a water-rights dispute a step farther Monday by comparing landowners who can’t drill wells on their property to people lacking safe drinking water in developing nations.

The state’s Legislature spent a record number of days in overtime this year debating how to respond to state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, which has effectively halted construction for some property owners in rural areas.

Lawmakers adjourned last week without a deal to address the ruling — and without approving a $4 billion construction budget that got caught up in the fight.

The two sides kept the battle going on Twitter on Monday.

“The United Nations General Assembly voted in 2010 to recognize ‘...the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right,’” staff for the GOP Senate caucus tweeted Monday morning, citing an article posted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Rural landowners in Washington have a human right to water and the certainty of a permanent fix,” the Senate Republicans’ tweet added.

In the Hirst decision, the state Supreme Court said Whatcom County didn’t adequately protect water resources when approving developments relying on new wells. The court ruling left some landowners unable to drill wells on their property, hampering their ability to build homes.

The 2010 U.N. resolution, by contrast, spoke of 884 million people’s lack of access to safe drinking water worldwide. The resolution “recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

But, according to the same article cited in the GOP tweet, the U.N. resolution also comes with a few caveats. For one, it doesn’t apply to Americans, the post says.

It also “carries no regulatory weight,” according to a column featured in Scientific American.

“Therefore, the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack a water tap are not suffering a human rights violation, as long as their governments are making an effort,” the Natural Resources Defense Council’s article said.

A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans didn’t respond to questions about why staffers compared the property-rights debate surrounding Hirst to the U.N. resolution on clean drinking water.

Shortly afterward, the tweet was deleted.

It doesn’t look like Republicans and Democrats’ spat over Hirst will be resolved anytime soon.

Before adjourning last week, Senate Republicans had pushed to essentially roll back the court decision, saying only a permanent fix would give landowners and counties the certainty they need to move forward.

House Democrats, meanwhile, had offered to delay the ruling for two years while offering to work toward a longer-term solution. They worried that overturning the ruling entirely could violate treaties with tribes over senior water rights, as well threaten the availability of water in rural areas.

Right now, the GOP controls the state Senate with the help of a conservative Democrat, while Democrats control the state House.

Each side continued to lob accusations at the other on Twitter Monday, even after Senate Republicans deleted the tweet about the United Nations resolution.

House Democrats criticized Republicans’ “all or nothing” strategy of costing the state billions in construction projects, while Senate Republicans accused Democrats of running away last week to prevent a last-minute vote on a Hirst bill.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1