By Marcy Stamper

As part of its efforts to develop a procedure that complies with a state Supreme Court ruling on water adequacy, Okanogan County is holding a series of informational sessions and opportunities for public comment.

The October court ruling in a Whatcom County case requires anyone who wants to use a well as the source for water for a new house to first prove there is enough water — and that using the water won’t affect any pre-existing rights to the water. Pre-existing rights include minimum water flows set aside for rivers and fish. People also need to show that they have the legal right to use the water.

The case is often called “Hirst” for the lead plaintiff.

Because the court’s ruling puts the responsibility for verifying legal and adequate water with the counties instead of the state, Okanogan County is developing a process to assist citizens and developers with their applications for a new water use. That would include gathering data from well logs, hydrology studies and watershed groups about water use and availability.

The county’s hearing examiner will gather information and take public testimony at the meetings. The meetings are often listed on county agendas as “omnibus hearings.”

  • Technical presentations for the Methow and Okanogan watersheds will be held on Thursday (Feb. 16) at 10 a.m. No public testimony will be taken.
  • On Wednesday (Feb. 22) at 6 p.m., the hearing examiner will take public testimony about the Methow Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 48.
  • On Thursday (Feb. 23) at 6 p.m., the hearing examiner will take public testimony about the Okanogan WRIA 49.

The meetings will be in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan.

The county’s emergency ordinance outlining its proposed approach to water is available on the planning department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. Click on the link for “Ordinance 2016-5” (“An ordinance pertaining to land use decisions requiring the use of water from other than a certificated source”) next to “Draft Title 20: Development Permit Procedures and Administration.” A copy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hirst case is also available on the website.

Written comments may be submitted at the hearing or in advance to rking@co.okanogan.wa.us.

For more information, contact Planning Director Perry Huston at (509) 422-7218 or phuston@co.okanogan.wa.us.