Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nancy Chaney Not Channeling Neville Chamberlain

Some thought the city of Moscow's failure to appeal the SEPA checklist for the proposed Hawkins Companies development in the corridor earlier this year meant "peace in our time." Nope.

According to Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Queen Nancy and King Solomon will be making a waterborne, not land, assault on Whitman County's sovereignty.
Conservation group, Moscow protest transfer of water rights

Entities claim water rights in question do not apply to Hawkins Companies' proposed development site

The city of Moscow and the Palouse Water Conservation Group have filed protests against a Boise-based development company's application to transfer water rights to its proposed development outside of Moscow and the city of Colton.

Moscow and Mark Solomon, representing the conservation group, said in their written protests that the proposed transfers violate Washington law by trying to take water from one basin and apply it to another, and that the transfers would put the Palouse Basin's water supply at risk.

In March, Hawkins Companies applied to transfer 120 acre feet, or 40 million gallons, of water to its proposed development in Whitman County, just across the border from Idaho and Moscow city limits. The proposed transfers would come from around Pullman, LaCrosse and from the South Fork of the Palouse River near Colfax.

The water would allow Hawkins to construct a 700,000-square-foot shopping center along the Pullman-Moscow Highway.

The company also applied to transfer 100 acre feet of a 700-acre-feet water right to Colton in exchange for 23 acre feet of water the city was seeking for municipal needs before reaching the deal with Hawkins.

The water-right transfers are all that is keeping Hawkins from purchasing the property and breaking ground on the shopping center.

Hawkins received a conditional use permit for its development from the Whitman County Board of Adjustment on Feb. 15.

The proposed water-right transfers are being reviewed by the Whitman County Water Conservancy Board, which has met twice to consider the company's applications.

Water conservancy board member Dave Stickle said the amount of information and complexity of the applications is daunting.

The protests will be considered by the water conservancy board and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Solomon said he hopes the water conservancy board weighs the protests and denies or passes the case on to the Department of Ecology.

"We tried to lay out very clearly that these transfers do not meet Washington law and the transfers are not in the same body of water," he said.

Stickle said the board could ask Ecology for assistance with the applications but did not indicate whether the board has decided to request help before making its recommendations.

"It has been a consideration," he said.

The water conservancy board can either deny Hawkins' applications, ask Ecology for technical assistance, or approve the request and send its recommendation on to Ecology.

Ecology has 45 days to review an application once it has a recommendation from the water conservancy board, although it can extend that period for an additional 30 days if necessary. Any interested party can appeal the department's decision to the Water Rights Pollutions Control Hearing Board.

Solomon said the hydrogeologic charts Ecology has used to allocate water in the past are not accurate.

Since the 1970s and even the mid-1990s the knowledge of the Palouse Basin has grown considerably, Solomon said. Recent research through the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee shows that Colton, LaCrosse and Pullman are not directly connected from a hydrogeologic standpoint.

Solomon said research defies Hawkins' belief that water rights can be transferred from LaCrosse to Colton, which are 40 miles apart and differ in elevation by more than 1,000 feet.

In its letter of protest, Moscow indicated that the water that would be drawn from Hawkins' two wells would compromise water flow for the city. It also believes Hawkins' wells could cripple the city's ability to pump water from a well it plans to drill near to the proposed development site in the next three to five years.

Commercial water use should be controlled through a municipal provider, Moscow's letter stated. It also stated that Hawkins' contractors have failed to provide evidence that surface water rights the company plans to transfer to its project site actually filter into the area's aquifer systems.

Solomon claims Hawkins has changed its request from only wanting to withdraw water from the area's shallow aquifer to pumping water from both the shallow and the deep aquifers.

"It is important to recognize that the transfer of water rights from one extreme end of the basin to another is likely to result in unforeseen consequences on water supply, particularly when there is a lack of research data to indicate the presence or absence of aquitards or other forms of hydraulic barriers within the aquifer systems," Solomon's letter stated.

Representatives for Hawkins were not available for comment. Hawkins Project Manager Jeff Devoe said at a water board meeting in March that the company plans to keep a low profile until all the necessary permits are acquired and construction begins.

The water conservancy board will meet at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at the Public Service Building in Colfax to continue its review of the applications.
The Palouse Water Conservation Nutwork site can be found here. The article did not mention that the Moscow Civic Association and the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club are also parties to the complaint.

Clever picking a method that ensures the matter goes before the Washington Deparment of Ecology. According to last Thursday's Whitman County Gazette, DOE's has already proposed standards on how much water flows through the creeks and rivers of Whitman County could limit development on the Palouse. If the legislature decides to abide by DOE's recommendations, southern Whitman County would only be allowed one well a year for the next 20 years.

Bureaucrats on one side and moonbats on the other. Luckily for Moscow and Latah County, they have had no such restrictions on growth. Last person out of Whitman County, please turn out the lights.

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