Opinion

Is there water, water anywhere?

JUST JACK

Water, Water everywhere, yet aquifers may shrink. Water, Water, anywhere. A resource? Do you think? (My apologies to Samuel Coleridge).

So the questions go on within the county administration concerning availability of ground water and our future. The “Keystone Cops” nature of the debate would be funny if the subject matter were not so serious.

About five years past, using a state grant, the county headed up the Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) study. The single requirement was to determine the quantity of water available to the county. Unfortunately, a serious effort to achieve that objective was overshadowed by the promise of more funding for other water-related studies. The utility districts, the actual experts on water quantity and aquifer recharge, were preempted in favor of a contractor who simply assembled some existing records, completed analysis and printed the report. Now, some $800,000 later, we still have no science-based, technically accurate estimate of the water available in the county or the recharge rate for given aquifers. In reality, we don’t even know what water actually underlies the county or how it gets there. As an aside, the plan that resulted from the three-year continuing employment project for county, state and contract employees was vetoed in the end and never came into play.

Prior to the WRIA effort, when the county was holding public “Speak Outs” and later sponsoring a “Natural Resource Working Group,” one of the continuing issues was the appropriate approach to effective introduction of precipitation into our ground waters. The county position applied the “all water belongs to the state” approach and denied that septic systems were vital to recharge. In addition, the approach to “stormwater” was that it was the single most detrimental influence on Puget Sound and salmon and required absolute control. Turns out the county was only partially correct, but mostly wrong. Runoff from precipitation does carry some silt and pollutants into streams and then the Sound. However, improper management of roadside drainage ditches is the single largest factor in any flow of pollutants. Even more significant is the “accidental” discharge or overflows from sanitary sewage systems that have dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Sound.

The requirement to establish “retention ponds” that held storm water for slow release into streams or the Sound actually diverted that precious resource from infiltrating back into the aquifers. The regulations were even more ridiculous because retained water could not be used for local irrigation on lawns and gardens. Instead we have come up with a “purple pipe” alternative to take potable quality effluent from treatment plants and send it back to potential irrigation uses. The restrictions on use of gravity septic systems continue, without scientific reason, and the aquifers continue to be depleted. Even something as simple as a rain barrel, a very basic “water resource conservation practice,” required a formal water right. In the past legislative session, a bill was introduced to require a water right to water your lawn. If there is a problem with quantity of water perhaps we need to look to the actual source of the problem: government regulation and restriction.

Further complicating the water quantity issue is the application and enforcement of required flow rates in the streams of Kitsap. Because Kitsap has no snow pack or mountain runoff, all water flowing in streams comes either from direct precipitation runoff or outflow from near surface aquifers. Stream flows are essentially relief valves, dispensing the excess water from the aquifer. However, if a specific minimum flow rate for a stream is established, the only way to ensure that flow is to control the water outtake for human use. In short, salmon actually have priority on near surface water. I looked for a long time, but could not find anything in the state Constitution that gave wildlife priority over humans.

It is good the commissioners may now address water as a resource and not a tool for the control of growth. The question remains, will they actually listen to someone who knows something about water or just continue to rely on state and county staffers for their information? Drink up while you can.

Jack Hamilton can be reached at gradiver@wavecable.com.

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