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Streamflow restoration

Washington state has a new streamflow restoration law in response to the “Hirst decision.” Hirst was a 2016 Washington State Supreme Court decision that changed how counties approve or deny building permits that use permit-exempt wells for a water source. Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6091, was passed on Jan. 18, 2018, and signed by Gov. Inslee the next day.

The law, RCW 90.94 Streamflow Restoration, helps protect water resources while providing water for families in rural Washington. We are getting started on implementation and look forward to working with communities to help find water supply solutions for homes and to protect streamflows for fish.

Interim guidance

Streamflow Restoration Grants Fiscal Year 2019 Interim Funding Guidance: This interim guidance can be used for projects seeking funding in the first round of Streamflow Restoration grants (2018-19). The interim guidance was issued in June 2018 and describes how to apply for funding, meet program requirements, and manage funded projects. This interim guidance will be replaced by a rule in 2019 — get involved in the rulemaking process by visiting our rulemaking page or scroll down to the “Public input requested” section.

Interim Guidance for Determining Net Ecological Benefit: The Streamflow Restoration Act requires us to determine that a Net Ecological Benefit (NEB) will result from implementing plans and projects as described in the law. We issued Interim Guidance for Determining NEB in June 2018 for watershed planning groups on expedited planning tracks and the water resource mitigation pilot projects.

We are working to gather feedback on the interim guidance to help us develop final guidance in 2019 — get involved in the process by reading the “Public input requested” section below. We are also tracking input regarding clerical errors and needs for further explanation of the interim guidance; these issues will be addressed through technical corrections and clarifications in the final guidance.

Policy interpretation

We are working to interpret key provisions of the law. 

Public input requested

We are requesting public input on two actions related to the Streamflow Restoration law: 
  • 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've developed preliminary draft rule language of Chapter 173-566 WAC - Streamflow Restoration Funding for public comment and to gather input as we develop a rule proposal. This preliminary draft rule language will be discussed at the public workshops being held around the state in October. You can also share your feedback via our online commenting system. We anticipate adopting Chapter 173-566 WAC in time for use in the 2019 funding cycle. The comment period on the preliminary draft runs through Oct. 28 2018.  Please note: This rule does not apply to the 2018 Streamflow Restoration Grant funding cycle.
  • Preparing final guidance for determining Net Ecological Benefit (NEB). The Streamflow Restoration law requires us to determine that NEB will result from implementing plans and projects as described in the law. In June 2018, we issued interim guidance on NEB for planning groups on expedited planning tracks and for pilot projects being conducted under Section 301 of the law. This interim guidance will be discussed at the public workshops being held around the state in October. You can also share feedback via our online commenting system. The online commenting system will be open until Nov. 9, 2018. The final NEB guidance will be used to evaluate watershed plans that are completed as directed under RCW 90.94.020 and RCW 90.94.030. We anticipate publishing the final NEB guidance in early 2019.


We expect the Streamflow Restoration Funding Program and NEB guidance will be of interest to entities involved in protecting, restoring, and enhancing streamflows and instream resources. We would like to hear your input and feedback as we develop these two tools. We will host six two-hour public workshops in October, with the first hour dedicated to discussing the funding rule, followed by a discussion of the NEB guidance.

Streamflow Restoration implementation grants

We have launched a grant program for Streamflow Restoration implementation projects. The first round of grants will focus on projects that improve streamflows and instream resources. Future funding cycles under this 15-year grant program will be based on a rule currently under development.
The grant cycle opens Oct. 1, 2018, and closes at 5 p.m. Oct. 31, 2018. Applications will be accepted through Ecology’s Administration of Grants & Loans (EAGL) system. 

Questions and answers

What does the law do? Are counties that restricted building permits in response to the Hirst decision now issuing building permits? Which wells are impacted by this law? What’s the difference between basins with and without a watershed plan? When did the law take effect? How will the $300 million be used? What is the Hirst decision? What counts as a permit-exempt use of groundwater?