With a new state law regarding the use of wells for new houses, the Okanogan County commissioners decided to eliminate the requirement for a water-availability review by the county. People planning a new residence will have to follow watershed plans and corresponding instream-flow rules.
The commissioners formally eliminated the water-availability review on Monday (Feb. 26), according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. They also directed Huston to draft a new code regarding domestic wells in the county.
The state Legislature passed a law in January to clarify the process for domestic wells after the 2016 “Hirst” ruling by the state Supreme Court. The law lets people proceed with development but restricts the amount of water they can use, depending on the watershed they’re in.
Until the Legislature passed the law, the responsibility for determining if there was adequate water for new development — and if the person planning to use the water had the legal right to use it — was switched to the counties. The new law returns that responsibility to the Washington Department of Ecology.
Okanogan County will continue to track new water use to have a better idea of how much water is left in the total amount reserved for domestic wells in the Methow watershed. The law set new limits for new daily water use in the Okanogan watershed until their watershed plan is updated.
The commissioners will review the proposed water code in coming weeks. It will ultimately be taken up by the planning commission and will have a public hearing, said Huston.