Private well owners in Whatcom County say they are concerned over proposed fees, withdrawal caps, metering and vague definitions in the County’s WRIA 1 watershed management planning process.
The Planning Unit (a citizen based group formed by state statute) is working on an update to the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Plan, as mandated by the legislature’s passage of ESSB 6091 last January. This update must be submitted to the Dept. of Ecology by February 1, 2019. If the update is not completed by the February deadline the Department of Ecology (DOE) has been directed to perform the update for the Nooksack Watershed (WRIA 1). The Planning Unit determines the language of the update and the Whatcom County Council will vote up or down on it after the Planning Unit completes its work before the February 1st deadline.
At the Planning Unit’s September 26, 2018 meeting, members were presented with a motion to approve a bare-bones outline of the Watershed Management Plan update. This plan’s proposal calls for ‘metering,’ but does not say exactly what will be measured. Members of the Private Well Owner’s Caucus raised concerns that well owners would be stuck with the burden of this metering requirement. The caucus proposed that the plan should meter stream flows or salmon first, BEFORE metering wells, saying that the impact from wells is immeasurable and the plan must contain evidence-based projects. The motion presenting the outline failed to pass, and no vote was taken on the Private Well Owner’s Caucus proposal.
The Private Well Owner’s Caucus asked why only well owners are getting slapped with proposed new fees. They also raised concerns over the plan’s ‘consumptive use estimates,’ saying they are “opposed to wild guess-work.”
The 2016 Hirst Decision led the Whatcom County Council to place a moratorium on all new well applications. ESSB 6091, the so-called “Hirst Fix” legislation was passed by the legislature in January, 2018 and allowed the County to remove the building moratorium it had imposed on projects that would use permit-exempt domestic groundwater wells for their water source. Currently Whatcom County property owners can dig a well for domestic use with an application. Dave Onkels, Land Use Caucus Representative, says that some members of the County Council and Dept. of Ecology would like to increase fees and decrease the amount of water allowed to be drawn by any new wells in the Nooksack Basin down to well-below the 3,000 gallons per day limit specified in ESSB 6091.
The Planning Unit’s next meeting is October 11, 2018.