The moratorium on new subdivisions in the Methow watershed will stay in place at least through July while the Okanogan County commissioners study water use and state rules and laws on what type of water use should get priority.
Among the things commissioners are studying is the 1976 Methow Rule, which sets aside a certain amount of water for use in seven reaches in the Methow and establishes a priority of uses for that water, with individual houses (single-domestic) at the top of the list, even before water for fish in rivers (instream flows).
The commissioners also have been studying recent court rulings that require people to demonstrate that there is enough water to supply a new home.
They’re also analyzing a 2018 decision by the state Department of Ecology that restricts the withdrawal of water from streams and lakes in the Methow that are already considered maxed out.
In its current form, the moratorium stops the creation of most new building lots. Anyone who can show a water source other than a standard well — either a water right or proof they’re trucking water from another location — could qualify for a building permit, according to Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover.
The ban doesn’t affect existing parcels, even if they’re undeveloped, but some people think the moratorium should be expanded to include these lots.
An analysis of water law is crucial because the commissioners and water planners have been exploring the idea of revising the Methow Rule. But some fear that any tweaks to the rule could jeopardize the generous amount of water set aside for single-residential use in the Methow.
The commissioners have received comments from about 60 members of the public on the moratorium and water use.
The moratorium was instituted as an interim zoning control. Under state law, an interim zoning control can be in effect for up to six months, although that can be extended in six-month increments if the commissioners produce a work plan for applicable studies. Each extension requires a public hearing.
The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on Monday, Aug. 3, at 5 p.m. The hearing will be in the Methow Valley, but the location hasn’t been announced yet.