Chelan County Well Drilling Myths: Hirst Decision Explained


The Washington State legislature passed SB 6091 which fixes the state Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision. Governor Jay Inslee signed the Hirst fix legislation January 19, 2018.  We will link to a blog post with new information - this is good news.


In the past year, we have heard a ton of Chelan County well drilling myths in the wake of the Hirst decision, many of them unfortunately propagated by the Wenatchee World.

“The Hirst decision changed the way counties decide to approve or deny water wells and, therefore, whether to grant residential building permits. It blocks landowners from digging new wells unless they can prove the wells won’t threaten stream levels needed for fish.”

“Supreme Court’s Hirst decision that blocked the digging of new rural water wells.”


The Hirst decision does not ban or prohibit drilling new wells in Leavenworth, Chelan County or anywhere in Washington state.

In 2016, the Washington State Supreme Court changed how counties issue building permits for properties that use wells as a water source. The case was Whatcom County vs Hirst, Futurewise, et al. and is commonly known now as the Hirst Decision.


The ruling assigns the responsibility for deciding water availability to counties, who previously had relied on the state Department of Ecology for such a determination.  Counties must decide if there is enough water (legally and physically) before issuing a building permit to a landowner using well water.

According to the Department of Ecology “While the case directly relates to Whatcom County, it appears to set legal precedent that applies to other counties where there are instream flow rules that were not intended to regulate permit-exempt water uses. It is unclear how the decision affects areas of the state where there are no instream flow rules.”

Somehow, this decision keeps being misinterpreted, especially by journalists or maybe heavy handed copy editors.

While there is a ton of uncertainty on this issue, what is clear is that your ability to drill a well has not changed.

According to the Department of Ecology “There are no restrictions on a property owner’s ability to drill a well. However, drilling a new well does not guarantee legal access to water.”


I already have a well drilled on my property, so I’m all set right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case either.

Again, from the DOE  “Even those who already have a well on their property may not be able to build a home using that well.”


What is happening in Chelan County around Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee?

It appears as though Chelan County is taking the “wait and see” approach. In 2016, Mike Kaputa, Chelan County’s Directory of Natural Resources said “There’s a lot of uncertainty and confusion around the Hirst case. We’re still digesting this.”

According to a website created by the homebuilding industry,, it looks like many counties have adopted the wait and see plan, though building permits in other counties are now harder to receive. A chart comparing counties can be found on their website.

As of January 2018, permits are still being issued by Chelan County to build homes with water provided by wells and there are no new restrictions on drilling wells from the state of Washington.







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Allyson and Geordie Romer

Leavenworth real estate agents - Allyson and Geordie Romer

For over a decade, Allyson and Geordie have been serving clients in the Leavenworth-area real estate market. Together, they work tirelessly to stay on top of the regional market and present the most relevant opportunities to their clientele.

When not in the office, they can be found exploring the endless recreation opportunities of the area in all of its seasons.




Geordie provided excellent real estate representation! We appreciated his detailed knowledge of the market, his up front and honest approach, and his negotiation skills.
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Geordie made this somewhat complicated transition easier for us…going above and beyond to help us work through issues that came up during the sale of our parents home. We appreciated his knowledge, attentiveness to details and his willing spirit.
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Geordie was great in every way. We have been looking in the Leavenworth area for some time, and Geordie was absolutely the best for local knowledge, history and depth on neighborhoods, developments and the local market trends. He was very quick to respond (even when he was on his vacation) and worked very diligently to get all of our questions answered in a very timely fashion. We would recommend him highly to anyone looking to buy or sell a home. Very friendly, and helped us navigate all of the local options before we made an offer on the property that we purchased. Thank you, Geordie!

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It was such a pleasure to work with Geordie and his wife, Allyson on our cabin purchase. They showed us a variety of locations, listened to what we wanted and helped us find the perfect match. Everything was smooth and not stressful, just relaxed and easy. We would definitely recommend Geordie and use him again if the need arises!

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