From last Thursday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Expert: WSU wells not threat to nearby wells
Opponents will have opportunity to rebut testimony of UI professor
A local hydrogeologist said Wednesday the well system at Washington State University should not impair the wells of neighboring domestic properties.
James Osiensky, a professor at the University of Idaho, testified on behalf of WSU and the Washington State Department of Ecology during the second day of an appeal hearing over the state's decision to allow WSU to consolidate its water rights.
The first two days of the appeal to the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board took place at the Lighty Student Services building at WSU. Each side was given six hours to present testimony, and the board will render a verdict within 90 days after the hearing is complete.
That could be some time after a board decision allowing the group of appellants to provide rebuttal to Osiensky's testimony.
The appellants - the Palouse Water Conservation Network, the Palouse Group Sierra Club and Pullman-area resident Scotty Cornelius - claim the consolidation will allow the university to pump more than three times as much water per year as it currently does. They argue that the university has contributed to the dropping levels in the Grand Ronde aquifer, and point to an 18-hole golf course under construction as a project that will create more drawdown of the area's primary water source.
Cornelius, who lives outside Pullman, has said his well is decreasing at a rate of 10 inches per year.
WSU currently has the rights to operate seven wells, though two large wells pump a majority of the water needed on campus at 2,500 gallons per minute. Additional wells can be used in case of emergency.
Wednesday's testimony was dominated by expert witnesses who said measures were taken to ensure the university's consolidation would not decrease water availability on neighboring properties.
Osiensky said he has determined the drawdown of the Grand Ronde aquifer should not exceed two feet every 10 years through any combination of the university's seven wells pumping water. His research has shown that the aquifer will decrease 1.95 feet in 10 years if WSU continually pumps water. The aquifer will only decrease another half-inch in the same time frame with WSU operating its wells under the consolidation.
"Drawdown is a necessary evil," he said. "You can't get water without drawdown."
Rachael Paschal Osborn, the appellants' lead attorney, made a motion to strike Osiensky's testimony from the record. She said the respondents pulled a "bait and switch" by bringing in Osiensky when another expert witness could not take the stand due to a scheduling conflict. She added that the respondents did not disclose Osiensky's testimony and strayed from questions relevant to his deposition, which was taken last fall.
"We think allowing Dr. Osiensky's testimony is a violation " Osborne said. "They come in and it's trial by surprise."
Board members met in private to discuss the motion. Board Chairwoman Andrea McNamara Doyle said Osiensky's testimony does violate the respondent's duty to disclose, but instead of striking the testimony from the record she allowed the appellants to provide rebuttal to his testimony at a later date.
The board will have a conference call this afternoon with attorneys from both sides to set a time and place for closing arguments and the appellant's rebuttal to Osiensky's testimony.
The appellants agreed to proceed with the cross examination of Osiensky on Wednesday, questioning the equation he used to formulate the data from his testimony. They argued the method he used assumes the aquifer is not confined to an infinite area and is not isotropic or uniform in thickness, among other things - most of which do not pertain to the Grand Ronde.
Osiensky said there may be "some discrepancies" because the data used in his method was not spot-on regarding the Grand Ronde. He noted that the drawdown would be slightly more in some cases, although the "relative impact would stay the same."
Osiensky said the drawdown in Cornelius' well is a sum of drawdowns from all pump wells in the Pullman-Moscow area.
Guy Gregory, a senior hydrologist with the Department of Ecology in Spokane, testified that he did an analysis of wells that could be affected by the consolidation. He found no evidence that the change would impair the water rights of other wells.
"We know there's water in the area," he said.
Osborn said she plans to take the case to the Washington Supreme Court regardless of the outcome of the hearing.
She said the appeal in front of the board only addressed whether WSU was impairing the water rights of other residents in the region. It's on more-complex issues, such as the university allegedly "water hording" unused water rights and the interpretation of the municipal water law, that demand an appeal to a higher court.
"This isn't over," she said.