Every day I spend time explaining to people the current status of the Hirst Decision and how it has affected the real estate market and marketability of certain land parcels, so this is an attempt to offer an update concerning the current state of affairs on this topic, at least in Spokane County.
About a year ago the Washington Supreme Court decision in the Hirst Case ( Whatcom County) reversed a lower court ruling and clarified the Growth Management Act. The short of it was that the counties of Washington (instead of DOE) are now in charge of proving water availability prior to issuing any building permits. When a property has public water available this is a non-issue, but if it requires drilling a well the legal availability of water must first be proved. In Spokane County and especially in WIRA 55 (Little Spokane River drainage) the county immediately placed a moratorium on building permits which created a public uproar. Later clarification by the County (Emergency Resolutions), loosened that moratorium, but still left many land owners holding the bag. In other words they have been unable to sell their property because Spokane County officials will not issue building permits. For this past year land sales have been sluggish at best, but now we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel!
Since the legislators in our fine state have not made this issue a priority, there appears to be no legislative resolution in sight. Instead, Spokane County officials have chosen to resolve this problem on their own. They recently purchased a large agricultural water right with the intention of marketing what they call Certificates of Mitigation or small slices of this water rights as they convert it to domestic use. If a land owner purchases one of these Certificates ($1,500 - $4,000 range each), their property would then be eligible for a building permit.
The catch is that water rights can only be sold down stream in the same drainage as the original source of extraction, so many properties may still not qualify. County Water Resource officials are scrambling to offer a wider range of options by purchasing more water rights in different locations, but that has proven difficult.
The latest word from County officials is that Certificates of Mitigation for parts of the Little Spokane River and Dragoon Creek Drainages will be available to purchase by mid December of this year.