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Published on Friday, July 21, 2017

Capital budget and water deal eludes Legislature

The two remaining issues of the 2017 legislative session are unresolved as legislators were unable to find common ground before the end of the third special session on July 20. Without an agreement on the Hirst water issue, the Senate appears prepared to hold to their position that they will not pass a capital budget. As of now, what promised to be a pretty positive capital budget for cities will stay on the shelf.

The water discussions progressed quite a bit throughout the session with general agreement that the Department of Ecology is the appropriate manager of water resources, that a new fee would be established on well drilling, and that resources from that fee would be spent on in-stream flow restoration to offset impacts from development. The House and Senate were unable to come to agreement about what role Tribal Governments would have in mandating the state close regions to well-dependent development if they were unhappy with the progress of restoration work. Ultimately the House wanted unilateral Tribal ability to shut down development if they were not satisfied with mitigation investments, while the Senate felt that authority to close basins for new water uses was appropriately the role of the state after a robust public process.

When it became clear that the sides were too far apart to reach agreement, House negotiators offered a two-year timeout on enforcement of the Hirst decision to give time to find an ultimate solution. The Senate rejected that approach expressing concerns that it would create too much uncertainty and negatively affect landowners and developers that need water and local governments that are trying to plan for future growth. The Senate wanted a permanent fix.

There are glimmers of hope as water negotiators vowed to keep working. AWC continues to work with all parties to see if common ground can be reached, both for the sake of clarity around water management and to clear the way for the capital budget. Cities who are interested in either of those outcomes are encouraged to ask your legislators to keep working, to keep an open mind, and to find a way to get to a mutually-acceptable agreement.

Please contact Carl Schroeder if you have any questions.

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