Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, March 17, 2007

With "Friends" Like DOE, Who Needs PARD?

Even if PARD didn't exist, the Washington Department of Ecology would make sure Pullman and Whitman County stay trapped in our agricultural past forever.
From last Tuesday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:

Stream mandates may restrict Whitman County growth

Study will determine how much water can be drawn from area waterways; could limit number of new wells

New stream-flow mandates for the North Fork of the Palouse River and other area waterways could have a dire effect on growth in Whitman County.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is in the process of determining water rights for Palouse-area waterways. They will be granted their own water rights through the Minimum Instream Flow process, which will require that a certain amount of water be left in the streams during low-flow seasons.

The process could limit the number of new wells that are allowed in Water Resource Inventory Area 34, which includes most of Whitman County.

The goal is to protect existing senior water rights and set flow standards for each stream that must be maintained. All rights issued after the Minimum Instream Flow process will be junior to the existing rights, including water allocated to the streams.

Junior water rights could be lost if the river falls below the levels set during the process.

The process is designed to involve the community. If area residents and governing entities do not become involved, the Department of Ecology will conduct the study and set the standards without local input.

Rob Buchart, director of the Palouse Conservation District, said Palouse-area representatives are working with Ecology, and he hopes to find a balance that will protect fish and wildlife while allowing for residential and commercial growth.

Buchart used the situation facing WRIA 35, which includes most of Asotin County, as an example. WRIA 35 is nearing the end of its instream flow study, and Ecology has recommended it not drill more than 36 wells in the next 20 years.

Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent said a similar recommendation for WRIA 34 could have negative consequences.

"If that happened here, housing in rural areas may be precluded from growth," he said. "We want to maintain water capacity to open up the county."

Largent said there is a need to be aware of the pressure on the Palouse aquifer systems, but streams shouldn't be granted so much water that opportunities for growth will be choked.

Mimi Wainwright, with the Department of Ecology, said the goal is to combine science and local communities in order to reach a reasonable solution that will balance environmental needs with growth. She said it should be a homegrown effort to look at the watershed area from a big-picture standpoint instead of a single angle. Ecology tries to manage water and not limit growth, but the process may force an area to recognize it does not have infinite water resources.

"We are dealing with a finite resource that we are dependent on and it's highly competitive to get," Wainwright said. "We're looking at reasonable ways to store water, conservation practices, irrigation efficiencies in order to provide water for population and economic growth and instream values."

The measurements are complete to start the WRIA 34 study. Now it's time to figure out what those numbers mean and determine how much water is needed to support the instream habitat and how much can be pulled from the river.

Wainwright said Ecology considers surface water and groundwater to be connected unless a WRIA group can prove otherwise, and one of the goals of the instream flow study is to discover how the groundwater and surface water are linked.

Largent said the connection between surface water and groundwater could negate the county's developing land-use laws by limiting the number of new wells in the county. The county will be involved in the process so it can champion business and residential growth.

Tim Simpson, general manager of the Asotin County Public Utility District, said WRIA 35 members also had initial concerns about the instream flow process limiting expansion in their area. But the WRIA 35 watershed is different than the Palouse watershed because it has to allocate water to salmon and steelhead runs, and it does not have a steadily decreasing aquifer system. Simpson said WRIA 35 representatives do not believe limiting the number of new wells in their area is necessary. The WRIA 35 study group focused on riparian areas around streams and encouraged people to drill and use water away from those areas to minimize the impact on the instream flows.

"We are very concerned about our riparian areas," he said. "But the areas outside, we're not concerned. In our opinion, use outside the riparian areas will not impact those areas."

The city of Pullman is researching the possibility of groundwater storage and the WRIA 34 Palouse Watershed Planning Group is in the midst of a feasibility study for a passive recharge area on the flanks of Kamiak Butte that could raise groundwater levels.

Wainwright said water could be collected for the storage projects during the winter and spring, when instream flows are at their peak.

"At this point we don't know what's going to happen," Buchart said. "But it's like a giant elephant in the room that we have to address."

Buchart said providing accurate information about the project is vital to its success. The Palouse Watershed Planning Group will hold a public information meeting at 6 p.m. March 20 in the Public Service Building in Colfax to answer questions about the process.

Simpson said WRIA 35 hopes to have its plan in action by July.

"In the end I think this will be very beneficial," he said. "But it wouldn't have happened without the local folks driving the process."
You can see why I backed Michael Largent for county commissioner last year. Thank God our elected officials are willing to stand up to the tyranny of the unelected bureaucrats from the Department of Ecology.

1 comment:

Bruce Heimbigner said...

It seems to me to not be so difficult. If the aquifer is depleted, so what? We get water from elsewhere. Is the water in the aquifer some magical elixir? Does some species die out if the aquifer goes dry? I don’t know the answers. But I don’t need to know the answers to know that we are not about to run out of water. There is plenty of water above (Idaho) and below (Snake River) us to go around without any use of the aquifer. I’ve always thought it is odd to water my grass with the same water I use to brush my teeth. If there is some problem with getting water out of the aquifer then let’s get it somewhere else. What’s the problem?

Poor Phoenix, that desert community has no chance to grow.