What specific uses and restrictions apply to permit-exempt wells?

The Hirst Decision impacted the use of permit exempt wells for development and that resulted in the Washington State Legislature to pass ESSB 6091 in 2018. The new law does not directly impact existing permit exempt well users. Wells constructed in these basins in compliance with chapter 18.104 RCW are not subject to the new restrictions, limitations, and fees. This is regardless of whether the well was put to beneficial use prior to January 19, 2018.

The new law provides specific regulation for new permit-exempt domestic uses. Per our interpretation of the term “domestic use” (below), we interpret the new law to limit water use under the exemptions in RCW 90.44.050 for domestic water use and watering of a non-commercial lawn or garden. The other uses exempt from permitting (industrial use including irrigation and stockwatering) are not restricted beyond existing legal limitations under RCW 90.44.050, and, in some cases, restrictions identified in instream flow rules adopted under chapters 90.22 or 90.54 RCW.

  1. What is domestic use? The Legislature did not define “domestic use” in the new law. The Legislature chose to specify that during a drought, only 350 gallons per day (GPD) may be used for “indoor domestic use” in selected basins. This distinction leads us to interpret that the larger quantities authorized in non-drought years (950 or 3,000 GPD, depending on which basin) include indoor and outdoor uses for a household (including watering of a lawn and noncommercial garden).
  2. How much water is legally allowed for domestic use in Hirst-affected basins? Under the new law, applicants relying on a permit-exempt well for a new home may use a maximum annual average of 950 GPD or 3,000 GPD for their indoor and outdoor use, depending on which water resource inventory area (WRIA) they are located in. All new permit-exempt uses, including group domestic, are still restricted by the 5,000 GPD limit under RCW 90.44.050. For example, a new homeowner in an affected basin could withdraw 4,000 gallons on a summer day, so long as they did not do so often enough that their annual average exceeded the 950 or 3,000 gallon limit.
  3. New fees. The law imposes a $500 fee, which is paid to the local government at the time of applying for a building permit. The new fee is not required to be paid at the time a well is drilled. The fee is not collected by the Covington Water District.
  4. Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Committees. Under Section 203, Ecology has now convened a group of local governments, Tribes, and stakeholders to develop a Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Plan in each WRIA. If all members of the committee agree to approval of a plan, then we will proceed to adopt a plan. [1] Then, if necessary, Ecology will amend instream flow rules to incorporate provisions of the plan. The Covington Water District serves on the WRIA 9 committee as the largest special district designee.

[1] If a committee fails to adopt a plan by their prescribed timeline, they are to send the draft plan to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB) for its review. The SFRB makes recommendations and sends them to us. We then we amend the draft plan and adopt it into rule.

More information can be obtained from the State Department of Ecology through https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Water-supply/Water-rights/Groundwater-permit-exemption

Show All Answers

1. What are permit-exempt wells?
2. What specific uses and restrictions apply to permit-exempt wells?
3. Why doesn't Covington Water (CWD) allow permit-exempt wells
4. What does CWD allow and credit for decommissioning a functioning and registered well?
5. Why has CWD implemented these options?
6. Why are exempt wells bad?
7. Who do I contact for further information?