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Public weighs in on groundwater

Planning commission hears a wide range of opinion on topic

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Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 1:59 pm

Public comments made Tuesday on a proposal extending groundwater well restrictions to the entire county ranged from threatened lawsuits to suggestions on well options.

Most of the comments to the county Planning Commission included concerns the well restrictions would hurt county property owners and the local economy. 

Some called for a delay on approving the Kittitas County restrictions and doing more research into options and measures taken in other areas of the state to protect groundwater.

Others called on the Planning Commission to recommend that county commissioners reject an expansion of the well restrictions.

Ron Slater of Cle Elum, who owns an undeveloped rural subdivision east of Ellensburg off  Vantage Highway, said his plat was fully approved by the county planning department and state officials 22 years ago. He said he has two letters from county officials affirming his right to allow one permit-exempt well for each five-acre lot.

“I’m not going to see my development thrown out” because the county has to satisfy new DOE rules, Slater said.

He said he would sue county government if the value and use of his subdivision is diminished in any way by new groundwater well restrictions in Lower County.

Slater said if the restrictions are approved, many people will join his lawsuit.

“I’m coming at you if you take away my water right,” Slater said.

Questioning

Lynn Brewer, who lives in the Lake Easton Estates subdivision, read a lengthy statement alleging county officials have approved building permits in the subdivision in past years involving projects that illegally encroach into groundwater well protection areas.

Brewer said this goes against county government’s own rules and state statutes, and puts domestic drinking water at risk, devalues private property and opens the county to legal action. 

She questioned how the county can be relied upon to protect groundwater resources if past county permitting has allowed the alleged illegal encroachment.

Jeremy Bach, of Bach Drilling Co., warned the proposal to extend well restrictions was one sided and will cause groundwater to be a commodity, the cost of which “will go through the roof.”

He called on the county to do more research into options before approving restrictions, including types of wells that create a barrier between groundwater and surface water. 

Bach said he would submit a list of options that can protect water resources but still allow new wells to be used. 

“Keep an open mind,” he told Planning Commission members.

William Schmidt of Ellensburg questioned why the county was considering taking unilateral action to approve  restrictions, when it should work with other counties in the basin to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Schmidt asked the Planning Commission to reject the restrictions warning they would subject county property owners to financial loss and the community to economic stagnation.

Know the facts

Andy Schmidt of Ellensburg said comments by U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists at local meetings indicated they were not concerned with the amount of water pumped from the aquifer in Lower Kittitas County in connection with hurting surface water supplies.

Schmidt said the USGS officials said their biggest concern was for large-diameter wells close to the Yakima River in Yakima County.

He urged the county to do more research into the USGS study findings to make sure any groundwater rule changes match the scientific facts.

Officials cautioned

Glen Smith, government affairs coordinator of the Washington Groundwater Association, cautioned county officials to take time to study the issues and facts. 

Groundwater supply issues have not been addressed adequately through the years and now it is a statewide issue that should also be resolved at the state government level in the state Legislature, he said.

He urged the Planning Commission and the audience to go online to view a Skagit County property owners’ video on water concerns at justwateralliance.org.

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