The Exempt Well Debate – Answers to the Assertions

Assertion There should be no “de minumus use allowed by small domestic wells

  • Our state law has the same de minumus standard used in many other states – water use under a certain amount does not need a permit
    • This standard recognizes it does not make sense to force small uses of water through the permit system since the amount of use is curtailed in statute
    • The Hirst decision ignored this statutory standard, throwing the rural areas into chaos


Assertion – Permit exempt wells will impair senior water rights

  • The vast majority of small domestic wells won’t interfere with senior users
    • Small domestic wells typically have a consumptive use of 10 to 50 gallons a day – far less than the amount used by senior users municipal and irrigation
    • Saying a well dried up is not evidence of impairment – wells go dry all on their own
  • There ARE REMEDIES if small domestic wells do interfere!
    • Legal action that can curtail use
    • Ecology closures when there are cumulative impacts or extremely sensitive areas
    • County imposed restrictions


Assertion Exempt uses will lower instream flows and harm fish

  • Instream flows, while an important tool in protecting fish, are an unrealistic legal measure
    • Flows by design are set higher than what Mother Nature can deliver in most years
    • It is impossible to actually measure the small amount of water used by a domestic well and therefore impossible to prove the well does or does not lower the flow
    • Lots of factors affect fish—habitat, water quality, predators—small wells are not a major factor


Assertion There must be “water for water” mitigation for all new small domestic wells

  • It is fallacy to say that all new wells will, by any scientific measure, require mitigation
    • Micromanaging replacement of small amounts of water to offset exempt uses in each basin will provide no meaningful improvements to instream resources.
    • The focus should be on implementing measures that will actually improve instream resources
    • The state’s water resource policies are increasing focusing on the smallest water uses that have the least impact on senior water rights and instream flows


Assertion Metering must be required of new small domestic wells to protect the resource

  • On average small domestic water wells use only 1 percent of the total water used
  • Current state law allows Ecology to require periodic reporting (RCW 90.44.050)
    • BUT Ecology NOT has utilized this authority because it is not practical or useful
    • Ecology has other information on typical well use – size and location
    • State law does not require metering of small surface water diversions