Streamflow restoration

Washington has a new law that helps protect rivers and streams while providing water for homes in rural Washington. 

The law, primarily codified in Streamflow Restoration (Chapter 90.94 RCW), was passed and signed in January 2018. We immediately began implementation and are committed to success.

This page provides information on key requirements of the statute and related milestones. 

The law was in response to the Hirst decision, a 2016 Washington State Supreme Court decision, and clarifies how counties issue building permits for rural homes that use a well (a permit-exempt well) for a water source.

Planning committees 

The law requires planning in 15 watersheds that were impacted by the 2016 Hirst decision. At a minimum, plans must recommend actions to offset the potential consumptive impacts of new, rural, domestic water use on protected rivers and streams. The plans must also result in a net ecological benefit to the watershed.

We are leading eight planning groups. The seven other groups are led by local entities. 

The law requires us to determine that a net ecological benefit (NEB) will result from the plans.

In June 2018, we issued interim guidance for determining NEB to assist watershed planning groups on expedited planning tracks and the “Foster” mitigation pilot projects (see below).

We are developing final guidance on determining NEB that will apply to plans due in 2021. To gather input, we hosted six statewide public workshops in October 2018 and collected written feedback through our website. Additionally, we are receiving technical advice from researchers at Washington State University and federal resource management agencies. 

We plan to issue the final guidance on determining NEB in 2019.

If you have questions about the NEB guidance, please contact Annie Sawabini at 360-407-6878 or

Grants program

The law invests $300 million over the next 15 years in projects that will help fish and streamflows. The Legislature appropriated up to $20 million for streamflow restoration projects for 2018-19. 

We launched a grants program and in the first pilot solicitation cycle (Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 2018), received 46 applications for projects across the state. We selected 15 projects in 11 watersheds.

The first round of grants focuses on projects that improve streamflows and instream resources. Proposals were evaluated using interim funding guidance that we issued in June 2018.

To guide future funding cycles under this 15-year grant program, we initiated rulemaking (see "Funding program rulemaking" section below). 

Funding program rulemaking 

We launched a new rulemaking for Chapter 173-566 WAC — Streamflow Restoration Funding Program. The rulemaking will establish process and criteria for funding projects statewide under RCW 90.94.060. We anticipate releasing guidance specific to each grant round.  We've developed preliminary draft rule language for public comment and to gather input as we develop a rule proposal.  This preliminary draft rule language was discussed at public workshops held around the state in October 2018 and we collected written feedback through our website. We anticipate adopting Chapter 173-566 WAC prior to future funding cycles. 

If you have questions about the rulemaking, please contact Rebecca Inman at 360-407-6450 or

"Foster" mitigation pilot projects

To address impacts of the 2015 Foster decision, the law established the Joint Legislative Task Force on Water Resource Mitigation and authorized us to issue permit decisions for up to five water mitigation pilot projects.

We have met with all five pilot project applicants, confirmed their participation, and received conceptual mitigation plans. We will present the plans to the task force and continue to work closely with the project proponents.

Policy interpretation

We are working to interpret key provisions of the law.