The Okanogan County commissioners have set a hearing in Winthrop on Jan. 27 to get feedback on a two-year moratorium on subdivisions in the Methow watershed. The commissioners adopted the moratorium as an interim control in December, which requires a public hearing within 60 days.
The ordinance creates a water-study area for the entire Methow watershed, from Pateros to Lost River. If it remains in effect after the public hearing, the county will use the time to study ways of revising the Methow Rule (which governs water use) to protect all water users — residential, commercial, agricultural and fish, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said in December.
Revisions to the rule could include shifting water allocations to different reaches in the valley or changing which water use gets priority — for example, individual homes, the towns, group developments, or instream flows and fish.
The moratorium stops the creation of new building lots for up to two years. There are a few exceptions, including proof of another water source. It doesn’t affect existing parcels, even if they’re undeveloped.
The commissioners were reluctant to take this step, but determined it was the best course of action based on legal advice, Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch said. Attorneys from the county and an outside firm specializing in water law said the county could be at risk of lawsuits if it continues to allow the creation of new building lots, Hover said. The concerns are based on laws and court rulings that said wells can be used only for a single residence — not for several houses built after a parcel is subdivided, Branch said.
There will be public hearings on the interim code in front of the county commissioners and the Okanogan County planning commission. It will also undergo an environmental review.
The first public hearing is Monday, Jan. 27, at 5 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn. People can provide up to three minutes of verbal testimony or provide written comments before or at the hearing. Comments may be sent to Laleña Johns, clerk of the board, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a copy of the interim code (Ordinance 2019-11), visit www.okanogancounty.org/planning and click on the long link near the top of the page (beneath the boxes) that starts with “An ordinance adopting as interim land use controls….”
For more information, contact Interim Planning Director Angie Hubbard at (509) 422-7090 or email@example.com.