Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

King Solomon Minds

Despite the City of Moscow backing out, Mark Solomon will continue his one-man war against Whitman County.

Solomon's Town Crier column in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News is a stunning display of arrogance by a self-proclaimed "expert" in hydrogeology, law, economics, and urban planning:
March 1 began a 30-day comment period on the Hawkins Companies' applications to transfer 40 million gallons of water rights to their state-line big-box development. It should come as no surprise to Daily News readers that I will be filing comments. What may be a surprise is the extent to which Hawkins is stretching the truth about water in the Palouse to support its water transfer applications.

A few weeks ago I met with the developer, at his invitation, to discuss his project. I told him we would fight, tooth and nail, their water right transfers. We are sitting on a water crisis in the making, and developments of this kind do not make sense given the sacrifices they will require of our community. The residents of Moscow are working hard to conserve our precious resource, not so corporate big boxes can suck us dry but for the viability of our communities in the decades to come.

Hydrologically speaking, the aquifer that serves Moscow extends under the Hawkins site. A growing body of evidence indicates that Moscow and Pullman are in two distinct and separate zones of our two primary aquifers. Aquifer boundaries are not defined by state lines. The result is that while the governing body that will decide the Hawkins water right is in Washington, the effects of their wells, if approved, will be felt in Idaho.

A quick synopsis of the Hawkins' transfers is in order. It's actually a three-way exchange in which the Town of Colton relinquishes its right to transfer 46 acre-feet of water from a well north of Pullman. That 46 acre-feet would instead be transferred to Hawkins in exchange for 100 acre-feet of water from another source Hawkins has promised Colton. Because the 46 acre-feet from Colton is not enough to meet the needs of the Hawkins Companies development, Hawkins is seeking another 74 acre-feet from a surface water diversion in the South Fork of the Palouse River a few miles southeast of Colfax. The problem for Hawkins (and Colton, but we'll come back to that in a bit) is the requirement in Washington law that any transfer "tap the same body of public water." The case law is very clear on how the "same body of water" is determined for groundwater: only hydrologic testing can be used to say one aquifer exists. How Hawkins thinks it can meet these standards is anyone's guess. We have an enormous amount of data and studies on the Pullman-Moscow aquifer systems resulting from the recognition that our aquifers, the life-blood of our communities, are in decline. The fact that we have two land-grant research universities perched on top of them has made our aquifers one of the most studied groundwater systems in the West. The details are too technical to present in this short column, but suffice to say there is nothing in the literature to suggest that any of the water proposed for transfer is connected to the Hawkins site.

A sad fallout of all this is Colton is going to come up short in its quest for new water to grow the town. The town wants to add 75 acres of subdivisions but needs more water to do so. It was almost home free: its proposed transfer of water from north of Pullman to Colton had been reviewed and approved by the Whitman Conservancy Board (the hearing body that recommends approval or denial of water right transfers to the Washington Department of Ecology) when Hawkins offered the town the possibility of twice as much water for development. The problem now is that while its original application received little scrutiny regarding the same body of water requirement ("supported" in the record by a very bogus Ecology review that cites as its only authority a now entirely discredited 1967 USGS report), the evidence that will be presented to refute the Hawkins transfers also will place in the record evidence that the Colton well and the well north of Pullman are not hydrologically connected. Somebody in Colton, maybe their city attorney, should have been thinking things through before signing over Colton's opportunity for growth.

When the smoke and mirrors clear, when all is said and done for Hawkins, the water right transfers will be denied and we'll again be offered the opportunity to think as a connected Palouse community on how we want the Pullman-Moscow corridor to be developed. Big boxes and car dealerships or knowledge-based industries? Are you listening Whitman County? There's only so much water to go around.
Just a couple of comments on King Solomon's screed:

April pointed out not too long ago after a Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee report was released that:
If Moscow had stayed within their goals, Moscow would have saved over 600 million gallons of water over that 14 year period. If Moscow would have used less than their goal, as Pullman, WSU and the U of I did, there would be over a billion more gallons of water in the aquifer. There is something about the numbers that makes me think that the rest of us are conserving water so that Moscow can use it.
Also, in a study last year, UI economist Steven Peterson found that:
A small high technology firm locating in Moscow with 54 employees and their families will consume as much water per year as the Moscow Wal-Mart. For a super-Wal-Mart, a technology firm with about 64 employees and their families would equals its yearly water use. Using these same assumptions the Alturas Technology Park employees and their families consumes 2.07 times the annual water use of a super Wal-Mart.
So by advocating "knowledge-based" industries in the corridor, Solomon is advocating more aquifer depletion. But then Solomon's Moscow is already doing a good job in that department.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

LOL! Not only does Washington State allow for such a transfer, we have a way of taxing it: http://dor.wa.gov/Docs/Pubs/SpecialNotices/2006/sn_06_WaterRightsSubjectToREET.pdf

It's interesting that Mark used the word "comment" rather than "protest" to describe his threat, oops, I mean intended communication with the Water Conservancy Board. Under the Washington State water transfer laws, comments frpm the general public are encouraged and are free, protests require factual documentation and money.

I think you can safely file this editorial under "Baffle Them With Bullshit."