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Water Rights and Building Permits

Building permits may be delayed or denied in Spokane County because of a court decision from a lawsuit on the other side of the state. The court decision itself did not impact Spokane County but the common law that it establishes puts the county at risk.

Before the county will grant a building permit for a structure that requires a potable water source, the permit applicant is required to show that they have a reliable source of water. When there is no municipal water supply, this water will normally come from a private well.

RCW 19.27.097 prohibits the initiation of a well that will impair more senior water rights or reduce the flow of rivers or streams. Well use permits are granted recorded and controlled by the Department of Ecology.

The recent Washington State Supreme Court decision ruled against Whatcom County because they failed to ensure that new private wells did not reduce water flow to the Nooksack River. The private wells in question were all permitted by the Department of Ecology.

The Department of Ecology is a state agency and therefore a senior and more encompassing government entity than an individual county. Prior to this ruling, local governments were not required to exceed the requirements of the regulations set by the state. Simply stated, the well permit granted by the Department of Ecology would safice.

This decision effectively places the burden of private well water flow impairment review on the individual counties. Spokane County is currently reviewing this court discussion to determine what type of water review process will be adopted. This decision does not affect wells currently in use by homes but will likely affect wells that are already drilled but not in use.

It is important that when purchasing a piece of land that the buyer takes the steps to insure that the property is suitable for its intended use. If this use includes a private well as a water source the buyer will need to seek the advice of an attorney regarding water rights laws. In addition the buyer may need the services of a hydrogeologist.

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