Groundwater in Island County ("Acronym City"):  Role of County Population Projections?


Just our thought:  Is groundwater intrusion by the sea undermining waterfront hillsides in Island County?  So far, the experts are taking a more cosmic view...

Landslide Near Seattle Followed Years of Shift
March 29, 2013

The violent energy of the earth can sometimes feel predictable. An earthquake striking a steep slope of gravel or boulders creates an outcome that even a nongeologist could foresee. Volcanoes can literally move mountains.

The huge landslide that struck early Wednesday morning on Whidbey Island, about 50 miles north of Seattle, was the kind of event, though, that can make things feel more fickle. The landslide, which destroyed one home and left more than a dozen others cut off from access by road, sent the equivalent of 40,000 dump-truck loads of earth — about 200,000 cubic yards — heaving toward Puget Sound. A road was shifted about 80 feet vertically and to the west. A forest at the top of a cliff was pummeled to splinters on the beach. No one was injured.

Scientists at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said Thursday in a report that unlike, say, an ordinary mudslide or avalanche — both of which have seasonal or environmental triggers, especially around precipitation — the Whidbey slide was considered “deep-seated.” That means, the report said, that the earth on Whidbey Island has in fact been moving slowly for years — since at least 2002 — as part of a larger “landslide complex” that may date back as far as 11,000 years.

In other words, the slide was ultimately predictable in its inexorable, gravity-fueled outcome, but unpredictable as to when a major slip might occur. Around 4 a.m. Wednesday, the great load shifted and started moving.

“Once an area slides, it will try to stabilize itself,” the Department of Natural Resources said on its blog, Ear to the Ground. “The land will slowly move in an attempt to do this. The chance of another catastrophic movement is low; but possible.”

Meanwhile, other expressions of the earth’s restless energy are already in play at the site. Wave action is eroding the tons of rubble piled onto the beach, with small sections — small by landslide standards, anyway, ranging up to 10 cubic feet in size — calving out into the water with the tide.

Ledgewood devastated by landslide
By JUSTIN BURNETT, Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
March 29, 2013 · Updated 2:07 PM

An enormous landslide in Ledgewood this morning has severely damaged at least one home and impacted more than 30 others.

The slide occurred in the Central Whidbey Community at about 4 a.m. Hundreds of feet of earth sloughed off from the bluff above Driftwood Way, destroying much of the road and knocking one home off its foundation.

"It's massive. I wouldn't even put a description on it," said Chad Michael, assistant chief of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

Looking at the devastation from above, the affected area appears to be at least the size of two football fields. In fact, aerial footage from news helicopters show a shoreline transformed, from a once straight waterfront to one that now has a large peninsula jutting out into Puget Sound.

The destroyed road cutoff 17 homes, five of which were occupied at the time of the slide, Michael said. No one was hurt but the resident in a home that was knocked off its foundation had a preexisting medical condition and was transported to Whidbey General Hospital.

As of 10:30 a.m., Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue emergency responders were busy evacuating the remaining residents from their homes by boat.

According to Fire Chief Ed Hartin, a total of 17 homes on Fircrest Avenue have also been evacuated as sections of the bluff have continued to slough off through the morning.

One resident, Bret Holmes, has been losing more and more ground all morning. Holmes said the first slide occurred just before 4 a.m. He was awaken by what some have described as a "sonic boom."

"I heard something loud, looked out my window and noticed I didn't have any trees in the front yard anymore," he said.

Initially, his yard stretched more than 30 feet to the bluff's edge. The first slide took out a large portion but additional sloughing has now left with him with about 15 feet.

"It's still moving," Hartin confirmed.

"Two (homes) are significantly threatened," he said.

Island County is bringing in a geotechnical engineer this afternoon and the evaluation results will determine how long residents will have to stay away from their homes, Hartin said.

A Ledgewood water commissioner confirmed water in the area has been shutoff and county emergency management officials said the same had been done for the electricity.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson visited Ledgewood this morning to see firsthand the devastation wrought by the landslide. Struggling for words, she characterized the damage as "enormous" and said she was "saddened" for Ledgewood residents.

"It's a tragic loss for these property owners and this community," Price Johnson said. "We just need to pull together."

It's unclear whether the damage can even be repaired. A huge section of Driftwood Way was completely destroyed and many of the homes along Fircrest are threatened as sections of the bluff continue to slough off.

Holmes' house is one of those most threatened and he was busy this morning moving belongings to the garage, which is located behind the house. While he's very worried about what will happen, he said he was grateful to have not been hurt in the disaster.

Just yesterday, he had planned to mow the backyard with his tractor.

"For some reason I decided against it," Holmes said. "Thank God."

Weston, CT doesn't have "shoreline" but there are some "lakes" and Conservation Commission most likely sees to this issue...we hope!

City asked to reduce water use
Whidbey News-Times
Sep 10 2010, 2:54 PM · UPDATED

Anacortes Water Treatment Plant officials are asking the residents of Oak Harbor to cut back their water use by 10 percent due to the low water level of the Skagit River.

The river is at less than 10 feet, which is the basis for a Stage 1 water conservation implementation. Stage 1 is voluntary conservation with the potential for a future drought. Stage 2 is mandatory conservation.

The city of Oak Harbor has put conservation measures in place at city parks and facilities and have asked larger water customers such as the school district, Deception Pass State Park and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to do the same.

Environmental educator Maribeth Crandell suggests these methods for easily reducing water use: take five minute showers, only run full loads in the dishwasher or washing machine, only water plants at dawn or dusk, use rain barrels for outdoor watering, fix leaks as soon as possible and reduce toilet flushes.

Currently the water department is offering to do free home or business water audits. For more information and tips contact the city of Oak Harbor at 279-4500 or access the web page

Septic program seen as successful so far
By JESSIE STENSLAND, Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Aug 24 2010, 3:43 PM · UPDATED

Mark Lenocker pulled the first of three lids off a septic mound system at a North Whidbey home Wednesday afternoon and immediately knew something was wrong. A solid mass of shiny-brown sewage was at the top, nearly overflowing from the underground tank.

At the next lid, it was clear that effluent had been escaping from the septic tank for quite some time onto the lawn where the owner’s dog plays.

“That’s not good,” Lenocker said to his boss, Bruce Silvia of Oak Harbor’s Silvia Septic Service.

The men were at the home to do an annual inspection of the mound system, as required by Island County code. They discovered that the floats weren’t working properly, which stopped the pumps and allowed sewage to overfill the tanks.

The fix was relatively simple, Silvia said, but it’s clear that the inspection prevented much more serious problems. Unchecked, the build-up of sewage could have caused the system to fail, which would cost an estimated $18,000 to repair. And the sewage in the lawn poses a risk to human health and the environment.

Commercial septic pumpers and inspectors have an obvious bias, but by and large they seem supportive of the county’s controversial mandatory septic program. County health department officials reported good news about the program at a Board of Health meeting last week, but obvious challenges remain.

The deadline for all Island County residents with septic tanks to get them inspected has now passed, but only about 15 percent of homeowners on septic systems have complied with the requirement. It’s clearly not a popular program. Residents crowded into meeting last year and sent letters to the county venting their anger at the requirements.

Perhaps the biggest complaint was about the $62 fee the county charges at the time inspections reports are filed. The county commissioners had promised that the fee was temporary, but it remains.

The county’s program implements the state requirement that residents have conventional, gravity septic systems inspected every three years, and more complex systems — like mounds — inspected annually.

“I think it’s a good idea, but it may need to be refined a little,” Silvia said, adding that the fee should be modified. “We’re on an island and it all ends up somewhere. We don’t want it to get into the shellfish or go into ditches or lawns where children play.”

Aaron Henderson, the county’s environmental health director, said commercial septic inspectors on the island tell him that they find problems with about half of the septic systems they inspect.

Both Silvia and Ron Brown of Brown Bear Septic Pumping on South Whidbey agree.

“Quite a few systems have minor problems. It’s usually something that can be fixed,” Brown said, but added that his company has also discovered systems that have failed.

Silvia said the average cost of inspecting a simple gravity system is around $150. Yet he said it would be less if more people complied with the county rules, so that he could do inspections a neighborhood at a time.

Last week, health department staff members told the county Board of Health that the controversial septic program is pretty successful, compared to other counties.

“Every county has been trying to figure it out and are struggling...” Joe Laxson, environmental health specialist, said. “I think we’ve gotten better results than other counties. I think we have a better balance.”

Keith Higman, director of the health department, gave a brief history of the rules regarding septic tank inspections. He explained that the state left counties with little leeway in how the program is implemented. Basically, the counties can only decide who can inspect the systems and how the county’s programs are funded.

Laxson gave a Powerpoint presentation that compared Island County’s program with other counties’ programs. Island County is only one of eight counties that allows homeowners to inspect their own septic tanks, unless it’s a complex system. The county’s septic university, Homeowner Septic Training or HOST, has graduated more than 5,000 people in three years.

Island County Public Health is moving forward slowly with compliance and enforcement efforts. In the first such action, staff members recently sent out a “reminder” letter to residents in the South Holmes Harbor Shellfish District who haven’t filed a septic inspection report.

Henderson said he wants to give all the people on the long waiting list for HOST to get a chance to take a class and do their own inspection before the county gets serious with enforcement.

Henderson said he hopes to get the 101 septic inspection class online this fall so that people can go through it at home. They still would have to take the 201 class, but it would hasten the process.

Counties in the state fund the septic system programs from at least a couple of sources, but it appears that Island County’s much-maligned $62 fee, due at the filing of the inspection report, is one of the most costly in the state. King County, for example, charges a $100 fee, but that’s only due at the time of sale. Skagit County funds the program through a clean water utility tax, which is what officials in Island County are considering.

Higman has been opposed to the $62 fee, arguing that it would be a disincentive for people to get their septic tanks inspected. Higman estimated low initial compliance with the program among the estimated 26,000 septic tank owners in the county, so the fee had to be at a level to make up for all those who won’t pay.

The commissioners are moving forward with a clean water utility tax in a phased approach. They have discussed creating a per-parcel fee to pay for the $200,000-a-year septic program, a hydrogeologist, surface water monitoring, salmon recovery and several other water-related projects. If it’s adopted, the $62 septic fee would go away, plus the tax could free up much-needed current expense funds.

Westport-Weston Health District soon available to discuss health related items in these two Connecticut towns!

Septic anger flows over
By JESSIE STENSLAND, Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Sep 15 2009, 3:49 PM

An overflowing crowd of septic tank owners told the Island County Board of Health that the On-Site Sewer Operations and Maintenance Program stinks.  More than 130 residents filled the Coupeville Recreation Hall Monday night to air their grievances with the program, which requires regular inspections of septic systems in the county.  Oak Harbor resident Keith Brady was cheered for his comments suggesting the program is “overkill” and that resident should be trusted to keep their septic tanks working properly.

“I don’t need Big Brother to hold my hand...” he said. “If a system doesn’t work, the owner is immediately knee-deep in doo-doo.”

The members of the Board of Health, which includes the county commissioners, called the special meeting to discuss anxiety about the inspection requirements. A $62 fee implemented in May brought residents’ concerns to a head. 

Island County Health Department Director Keith Higman said afterward that he felt the meeting was very productive, even though there were some angry outbursts. When Higman suggested during the meeting that he “might get lynched,” someone in the crowd yelled, “Good idea.”

Higman began the meeting with a history of the program, as well as startling data about nitrate pollution in wells on the island and fecal coliform in surface water. Faulty septic tanks probably cause, or at least contribute, to the pollution.

“The effluent that goes into your septic tank eventually comes out your faucet,” he said.

In an interview Tuesday, Higman said the citizens’ comments from the meeting could bring about changes in the county’s inspection program, perhaps involving the fee and rules about who can inspect certain systems. But he said many of the requirements, such as the frequency of inspections, come from the Washington State Board of Health as required by the Legislature, and the county must comply.  A number of issues bubbled to the surface as more than 20 residents spoke Monday night. The sheer cost of the program was the main concern, especially for residents with alternative systems.

People with gravity or “conventional systems” have to have their septic tanks inspected every three years. That costs anywhere from $120 to $300 to hire a county-certified professional, though residents can take a class to learn to inspect the systems themselves. In addition, the county charges $62 at the time the inspection report is filed.  Residents with alternative septic systems, such as mound systems, are required to have inspections every year. They cannot inspect the systems themselves. That means they are required to pay a professional and the $62 fee each year.

But in another wrinkle, residents with pressure distribution systems, with simple pumps, can inspect their own systems unless they live in the sensitive areas near Penn Cove or Holmes Harbor.  Most of the speakers objected to the requirement that alternative systems will be inspected annually, which is a dictate from the state Board of Health. Oak Harbor resident Brian Williams was among many residents who were upset that they couldn’t inspect their alternative systems, which was a decision made by the county Board of Health.

“This personally insults my intelligence and my ability,” he said.

Ron Brown, owner of Brown Bear Septic Pumping of Clinton, agreed that the inspection requirements are too frequent, but he was concerned about people’s ability to inspect the systems themselves. He said some are very complicated and not so easy to fix.  Many people in the audience didn’t like the $62 fee, especially when they found out why it is so high. Higman said he expects low initial compliance with the program among the estimated 26,000 septic tank owners in the county, so the fee had to be at a level to make up for all those who won’t pay. The program costs about $200,000 a year to run.

“You should bust their chops,” Kirby Stevens of Coupeville said about those who don’t comply.

Higman agreed that the fee at the time of inspection is a bad idea because it acts as a disincentive to comply. He said the county Board of Health adopted the fee against his advice. He suggested that the county commissioners should create a special district and collect a fee through the property tax system. Everyone with septic tanks would pay, so the fee would only have to be about $7.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson told the crowd that she never intended for the fee to be a permanent, but it was just a stopgap measure amid a fiscal emergency. The fee was adopted while the county was dealing with a $2 million budget shortfall.  Other residents complained that septic tanks are being unfairly targeted for causing pollution. Some people said the real concern should be old beach cabins with ancient septic systems. Others pointed out that there’s much larger sources of pollution in Puget Sound, from cruise ships to Canada dumping raw sewage.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a double amputee,” Chris Simundson of Coupeville said.

Still, the program has had success. Aaron Henderson, the county’s director of environmental health, said 24 “failed” septic tanks were discovered so far.

Town hall on septics likely to be heated
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Sep 11 2009, 3:14 PM · UPDATED

Undigested sewage may hit the baffle, metaphorically speaking, at a special Island County Board of Health meeting Monday night to discuss the county’s septic system inspection requirements.

Aaron Henderson, the county’s director of environmental health, said the county has received many requests from the public for such a forum and he expects it to be very animated. He said a lot of the recent interest in — and some anger about — the septic inspection program is a result of a new $62 permit filing fee, on top of inspection costs.

Henderson said officials have discussed abandoning the contentious fee and finding other funding, but they want to hear what the public has to say.

“I think all of us want to keep an open mind to alternatives,” he said.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Coupeville Recreation Hall on NW Alexander Street.

North Whidbey resident Skip Augle plans to attend the meeting, which he predicts will be similar to recent town-hall meetings on health care. A lot of people, he said, aren’t happy with the septic program for various reasons.

Augle said he’s in favor of inspection, but he sees no reason he should have to pay someone to look at his system each and every year.

“My concern is when bureaucrats in $100 suits and $150 ties try to dictate to me the frequency ...” he said. “The guy who takes care of my system is a professional, trained and certified by the county, and he says I don’t need an inspection for at least three years.”

Under county rules, homeowners with conventional gravity septic systems are required to have an inspection every three years. Those with alternative systems must have them inspected each year.

The county offers a class for people who want to learn to inspect their own systems, saving them the estimated $120 to $300 price tag from a professional. But that doesn’t apply to people with so-called alternative systems who live in areas deemed as environmentally sensitive.

Augle went through the county’s training and learned afterward that he can’t do his own inspections. His “simple pump system” is considered an alternative system and his section of the Rolling Hills neighborhood is considered a sensitive area. That means he’ll have to pay for an inspection and the $62 fee each year.

“They’re basically jacking up my property taxes by $225 every year,” Augle said.

As Henderson explained, the septic maintenance program comes as a result of “a partially funded mandate” handed down in 2005 from the state Board of Health of all counties bordering Puget Sound.

The county adopted its management plan in 2007 and the program started in 2008.

The problem, Henderson said, has been finding a way to fund the program, which will cost the county about $200,000 next year. Henderson was able to obtain a $100,000 grant from the state for two years of the program.

The county Board of Health, including the three elected county commissioners, originally decided to charge a septic fee at the time a house is sold, but the downfall in the housing market meant nowhere near enough money was collected. In April, the Board of Health adopted the current $62 fee that must be paid when the inspection report is filed with the Health Department.

The deadline for homeowners with alternative systems to file the first inspection report was July 1, 2009. The deadline for people with conventional systems is July 1, 2010.

On Monday, Henderson and Keith Higman, the director of the county health department, will begin the special session with a presentation about the history of the rules, the science underlying the rules, and the county’s program in relation to state requirements.

Then they will listen to public comments.

Henderson said the inspection program may not be perfect, but he said it has already prevented septic tanks from failing. That’s good for human health, the environment and the homeowners’ pocketbooks.

“I hope people come to the meeting with open minds and see the importance and value of the program,” he said.

Island County’s $5 land tax tossed by court
Whidbey News-Times
February 19, 2012 · Updated 6:13 AM

A Supreme Court ruling filed Thursday likely means that a special $5-per-parcel assessment to fund the Whidbey Island and Snohomish County conservation districts violates state law.

In response, the Board of Island County Commissioners is holding a special session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 to consider whether to schedule a public hearing to repeal the 2009 ordinance that imposed the special assessment.

Among the likely topics of conversation is whether the county will have to refund the assessments, a total of about $470,000, for the two years they were collected. Under an interlocal agreement between the conservation districts and the county, the districts are financially responsible if refunds have to be given, according to county Budget Director Elaine Marlow.

Yet Island County Treasurer Ana Maria Nunez said Friday that, under state law, the county isn’t required to refund property taxes that are found to be illegal or excessive unless an individual taxpayer has submitted an official protest of the tax to the treasurer. She’s not aware that anyone did that.

Karen Bishop, manager of the Whidbey Island Conservation District, said the district will work with the county commissioners “to appropriately amend the ordinance to insure that it is in compliance with the state law in light of the recent Supreme Court Decision.”

Commissioner Kelly Emerson took the opportunity to gloat. She wasn’t on the board at the time the ordinance was adopted, but she said she spoke out against it.

“I’m celebrating another occasion in which I was right,” said Emerson, the lone Republican on the board.

In 2009, the county officials modeled their ordinance after Mason County’s ordinance, which had been upheld by the Court of Appeals. But the appellate court decision was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Thursday that the Mason County ordinance is invalid. The decision was unanimous, though one justice did not participate.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Mason County ordinance violated state law because it didn’t include a per-acre fee. The justices did not address the issue of whether the ordinance was an unconstitutional tax, so that issue remains unresolved.

State law authorizes a county to impose a special assessment to fund a conservation district, but the law states the assessment must either be a uniform per-acre assessment or a flat per-parcel plus a uniform per acre fee. Either way, there’s supposed to be a per-acre fee.

Mason County officials were concerned about the administrative costs of collecting a per-acre fee, so they elected to only impose the flat $5-per-parcel fee. Four Mason County citizens challenged the assessment, arguing that it violated the state law and was an unconstitutional property tax.

After the Appeals Court sided with Mason County, the Island County commissioners adopted a similar ordinance. Bishop said that originally the district proposed a per-acre fee, but the Island County assessor argued that it wasn’t possible to calculate parcel acreage.

Commissioners Helen Price Johnson, Angie Homola and John Dean unanimously approved the ordinance. It wasn’t without controversy, as some citizens concerned about a new tax spoke out against it.

Island County’s assessment has generated around $235,000 per year. It is split between the Whidbey Island Conservation District as well as the Snohomish County Conservation District, which covers Camano Island and can only use the money for activities on Camano Island. The districts used the money for natural resource planning and technical assistance, low-impact development planning, preservation of sustainable farm and forest lands, outreach and education

Wetland regulations substantially upheld
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
Nov 25 2008, 1:38 PM · UPDATED

A South Whidbey environmental group’s challenge to Island County’s new wetland regulations was successful on three issues that must be fixed in the next 90 days.

Nevertheless, members of Whidbey Environmental Action Network, known as WEAN, aren’t thrilled with the 89-page decision from the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, which found in favor of the county on 10 other issues.

“There were a couple of things that even they could not swallow,” said Marianne Edain of WEAN, who’s dismayed at the direction the hearings board has taken over the last few years. “They just threw us a bone.”

In addition, the hearings board didn’t agree with WEAN’s co-petitioner, Camano Action For a Rural Environment or CARE, on any of the seven issues they brought forward.

Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate is pleased with the decision and describes the three areas that need fixes as minor, “no brainers” that will be easy to amend. He points out that the board didn’t invalidate the ordinance.

“In effect, the Growth Management Hearings Board doesn’t think that the things requiring fixes are significant,” he said.

Specifically, the board ruled that the county must amend the definition of “reasonable use” so that it’s more limited in scope; remove an arbitrary 25 percent limit on increases to wetland buffers; and create a monitoring program for rural stewardship plans.

The county’s wetland ordinance, which covers non-agriculture land, was adopted by county commissioners in March. It deals with setbacks between development and wetlands as well as a myriad other issues. Under state law, the county is required to adopt a series of ordinances to protect critical areas — namely geologically hazardous; frequently flooded; aquifer recharge; wetlands; and fish and wildlife.

Instead of adopting the state’s model rules, Tate explained that the county developed a one-of-a-kind, custom-made wetland ordinance appropriate for the county’s two major islands.

“The entire structure of the county’s wetlands ordinance is so complicated that we don’t believe it’s reasonably possible to protect wetlands using this incredibly difficult tool,” Edain said.

Tate admits that it is complex, but he said it will meet the important goals.

“You can adopt something that’s black and white and really easy to understand, but black and white is really rigid,” he said. “As you add flexibility and options to an ordinance, it becomes more complicated.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire directed two state agencies to file briefs with the hearings board in support of the county’s wetland ordinance. The three-member Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board’s job is to decide if new ordinances and rules comply with the state’s Growth Management Act.

WEAN feels that the county’s wetland ordinance will ultimately lead to the destruction of wetlands because it allows, in Edain’s words, “a million-and-one, get-out-of-jail-free cards” for developers who want to drain wetlands.

Edain said WEAN, and possibly CARE, will likely ask the board to reconsider the decision, which they have 10 days to do. But beyond that, Edain expects that WEAN and other environmental groups will be able to work with the new Island County commissioners on wetland and other ordinances instead of resorting to litigation.

“Everything changed on Nov. 4,” Edain said, referring to the election of Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola, both Democrats, to the board of Island County commissioners.

During the campaigns, both women were critical of the wetland ordinance, while the incumbent candidates trumpeted it as a model for the rest of the state.

“The reason we had to bring a challenge in the first place is that the sitting commissioners made it their policy not to listen to WEAN,” Edain said. “We’re hoping with the new commissioners we can deal with the issues earlier and not have to go through this.”

Water connects islanders, is a focus in development
South Whidbey RECORD
Aug 04 2007

COUPEVILLE — A childhood rhyme tells rain, rain to go away. If that rhyme rang true and the rainfall ceased on Island County, a lot of people might get pretty thirsty 20 years from now.

Every glass of water Whidbey Islanders drink, every car they wash and every shower they take is supplied by a groundwater aquifer, which is fed only by rain.

As communities on Whidbey’s south end such as Freeland and Langley deal with growth management issues, they share issues and concerns about Island County’s water resources and how best to manage those resources.  Because Island County does not get water from any other source, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has designated the county as a sole-source aquifer.

“It doesn’t mean there is just one aquifer. What it means is that groundwater is your only source of water and if you lost your groundwater source, you’d be in trouble because there is no other source for you,” said Island County’s hydro-geologist, Doug Kelly.

Island County’s fresh water aquifers, he said, were formed when glaciers departed from Whidbey Island nearly 15,000 years ago leaving layers of water-bearing sand and gravel behind. Non-water bearing layers are called aquatards, and consist of silt and clay and act as filters and boundaries for aquifers, said Kelly.

Groundwater, as a sole-source of the island’s fresh or potable water, presents some challenges, however, to scientists like Kelly and can hinder development of urban areas.

One challenge to the county’s fresh water supply is that if unchecked water usage continues from a single aquifer, as a majority of the county’s wells have drilled into, the aquifers water level can drop. Because Whidbey Island is surrounded by Puget Sound, the aquifer runs the risk of contamination from what is called sea water intrusion, Kelly said.

“Sea water intrusion is the principle concern for water in this county,” he said. “With the aquifers generally connected to the Puget Sound, if you pull too much water from them, water levels will drop a little ways down, but when they reach near sea level, the salt water starts coming in. You end up with a salty aquifer.”

The proliferation of individual wells and the potential of drawing sea water into the aquifer as a result of those wells drawing from a single source caused sea water intrusion policy to be implemented at the state level with the Growth Management Act, said Kelly.

“The county has a sea water protection code. In 1991, Island County was the first county to create policy. We have, by far, the strictest code in the state. We actually regulate all the way down to individual wells,” he said. “If it is in an area where sea water intrusion is a problem, we say you cannot drill a well or use that well for a building permit.”

Another challenge Kelly sees is potential contamination of the aquifer during the well drilling process.

“Every hole that you drill creates a vulnerability to the water because almost everywhere in the county there are significant numbers of these layers of silt and clay that don’t stop flow downward, but slow it,” he said.

“They create a really good filter system so that contaminants that occur at land surface, whether natural or human-created, typically don’t make their way down through those big thick aquatards. When you punch a well through that aquatard, you have created a pathway vertically around that well.”

But there is a solution, said Kelly. It exists in the form of public water services and provides a number of benefits to all users of fresh water.

“One of the big benefits for public water systems is that they have the fiscal capacity to deal with problems should they occur,” he said.

“If Freeland grows, and they continue using their current well fields, and they begin to see problems, they have the financial capacity to drill a new well two miles away. No individual homeowner could afford to move a pipeline two miles inland and drill a new well.”

With a managed water service, there are fewer wells to be drilled, thus fewer ways for the groundwater to become contaminated, said Kelly.  Regular monitoring for salt and contamination is a third benefit.

“There is regular monitoring. Big water systems sample everything under the sun on a pretty regular basis,” he said. “Tiny water systems sample for almost nothing almost never and individual wells sample once and that is it. There is some assurance of water quality and management that goes on with bigger systems that does not occur with smaller ones.”

For Kelly, fresh uncontaminated water is vital to Island County’s health and managing that resource is the best way he sees to mitigate the risks to it.

“A managed water system is a good thing for the aquifer and for public health,” he said. “So both environmental and public health benefit from a managed water system as opposed to a whole bunch of individual wells.”

Our question is this:  how is it that Island County Planners are willing to extend the amount of future development...
if population projections from the Office of Financial Management are accurate indicators, Island County could have 110,050 people by 2025.

The particular paragraphs in the newspaper report, for your convenience, are:

"...John Coleman, Island County Planning and Development assistant planner, presented the population projections to the Island County Planning Commission Wednesday. The process for determining the likely county population over approximately the next two decades began in 2004 when the county presented OFM’s numbers to the commission.

The commission deliberated on the figures and decided on a compromise between the medium and high figures, or 110,050. The projections were then forwarded to cities and towns to enable personnel to incorporate the numbers into their population projections.

The jump from 77,261 people in 2005 to 110,050 in 2025 represents a 20-year increase of 32,789 people or 30 percent. The projections show the county’s population increasing by about 8,000 people every five years beginning in 2005..."

Water Resources Program:

Coupeville expands its water service
Whidbey News-Times
By Nathan Whalen
Apr 08 2006

The town of Coupeville is looking to expand its water service area boundary, ending a moratorium that goes back years.

The expansion follows system improvements that make available more water to town residents and those in outlying areas.  The proposed plan would expand the service area basically from Libby Road to Outlying Field and the border of Admirals Cove.  With expanding the service area, the town is looking to repeal an ordinance prohibiting the sale of water hookups to out-of-town customers.
The proposed expansion won’t affect smaller utilities, such as ones at Long Point, Crockett Heights and Barrett Road, that lie within the proposed expanded service area, Mayor Nancy Conard said.  The town is able to expand its service area because of a new well that will be drilled near Keystone Road on Central Whidbey Island.  The centrally-located well would access a large aquifer that promises a new supply of fresh water.

“It looks like there is adequate water in the aquifer,” Nancy Conard said.  Doug Kelly, hydrologist for the Island County Health Department, said the town’s current wells, located in town and near Fort Casey, are susceptible to saltwater intrusion and the new well, which is located further inland, won’t have that problem.  Kelly cited the work to research and compile the water management plan that helped find a good aquifer for the town’s water system.  He said that expanding Coupeville’s water service area will help centralize water service to an entity that has the resources to manage it.
“It allows us to manage the resource better than any individual can,” said Bob Clay, member of the Coupeville Town Council during a recent meeting.  The county has two wells near where the town wants to place its new well. The county uses one of the wells for irrigation at Rhododendron Park. Kelly said the county wells shouldn’t affect the town’s plans.  The town is currently accepting bids for the new well. The well is expected to produce 60 gallons of water per minute which should provide water for 200 additional customers.
The town prohibited new hookups for out-of-town customers in the mid-1990s because the town didn’t have the infrastructure and water supply to properly serve them.
Conard said improvements have been made over the years. Those improvements include installation of a new water tower, replacement of a water main near Fort Casey, and improvement of the water treatment system and wastewater treatment facility. The new service area boundary is based on a review of population densities, current water rights the town holds, the current water system and what areas could eventually access water mains.
“We have been very careful in understanding what the maximum density will be,” Mayor Conard told the council.  The Coupeville Town Council approved the first reading of the proposed ordinance during a late March meeting. The ordinance comes up again during its April 11 meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room at the courthouse annex building.
The council will also look at an ordinance that would allow the purchase of in-town water hookups without a building permit application.

Get involved

The Coupeville Town Council could approve a resolution to expand the water service area and to allow the sale of water hookups without a building permit.  The council meets Tuesday, April 11, 6:30 p.m. at the Commissioners Hearing Room in the Courthouse Annex Building.

Island County water plan stirs debate
South Whidbey RECORD
May 28 2005

Despite the county’s best efforts, just how much water is available underground is still not known, nor is it ever likely to be.

At a public hearing Monday about the proposed Watershed Management Plan, a riptide of criticism was evident in the comments.  North Whidbey resident Donna Painter said that the plan, which has been five years and $500,000 in the making, contains a lot of uncertainties and non-answers.

Oak Harbor resident Al Williams said that the plan does not adequately protect the existing water supply.

“What is this going to level to?” Williams asked during the hearing. “Particularly when there’s an insurgency of people that are looking at this as an area that is prime for development.”

Don Lee, chairman of the Water Resource Advisory Committee, said that serious threats to the county’s water supply do exist, but there is no need to panic about the availability of water in the future.

“We’re not involved with planning; we’re not involved with land use,” he said. “We are involved with trying to figure out the water situation.”

Island County is in a unique situation with its water supply. It has more than 850 water systems, which supply water to all of the county, except Oak Harbor and NAS Whidbey. Most places in the state only have one or two water systems.  Island County relies on five different aquifers for its drinking waters. It does not rely on lakes or rivers like the rest of the state.

“We’re a different beast than the rest of the state,” Island County Environmental Health Director Keith Higman said. “We don’t rely on a river or lake source.”

The plan’s biggest focus is on combating seawater intrusion, which is when saltwater moves into a freshwater aquifer. It affects areas near the shore and those that are below sea level. The plan would modify the county’s seawater intrusion policy to include data on the water elevation of a proposed well.

Proposed new wells will also be subject to a review of their effects on the aquifer as a whole. If in an area that is at risk of intrusion, a well would be subject to evaluation.  Higman said that only one way exists to determine how much water is available for the future.

“The only way we’ll ever know how much water we have is to dig up the whole island and see what we have,” Higman said.

The county has also developed a critical aquifer recharge area map. This map outlines areas that allow for better recharge of the aquifers. According to the plan, only 20 to 34 percent of the rain that falls in the county makes its way back into the ground.  With the new map, developers will be better able to plan improvements around areas where water is more likely to be available.

In places with shallow aquifers, for example, rainwater may not be filtered of all contaminants. The plan also encourages low-impact development in order to maintain the recharge rates.  This means limiting the amount of clearing, paving and retention of runoff in developing areas.

The plan also proposes utilizing reclaimed water for uses such as farm irrigation. In addition, the idea of using “hauled water for emergency or short-term water supply. Water could be hauled by truck or boat,” is proposed in the plan. 

Navy, county to test private wells
Whidbey News-Times, March 23, 2005
By Susan Mador

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station plans to sample privately- owned wells adjacent to Navy property to detect whether a chemical has migrated past the current treatment system.

According to a news release the base issued Tuesday, representatives from the base and Island County Health Department will discuss the situation in a media briefing today.  The chemical, 1,4-dioxane, was used as a stabilizer in degreasing solvents used to clean aircraft parts. In high levels, the chemical can cause cancer.

“At this point we don’t know the extent of the contaminant,” Keith Higman, Island County’s environmental health director, said Tuesday morning.  For the past 10 years, the Navy has been treating contaminated groundwater beneath an old landfill on Navy property known as Landfill 6. This former landfill is south of Ault Field Road and west of Highway 20.

Higman said Island County will work with the Navy to develop a testing program to discover where the dioxane has spread.  Higman stressed that the Enviromental Protection Agency’s recommended concentration level of 4 milligrams per liter is far above the level of dioxane in groundwater found at the Navy’s property line. That level is 7.95 parts per billion (ppb). The maximum level found in groundwater is 14 ppb at the landfill site
Recent sampling has detected groundwater concentrations ranging from a high of 14 parts per billion to about 7 ppb at the Navy property line. While a federal Maximum Contaminate Level for consumption of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water has not been developed, Washington state has established a groundwater cleanup level of 7.95 ppb.

Higman said most residents in the area use city water but there are private wells in the area.  Higman referred to a data sheet issued by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that lists dioxane as a compound that is “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer in humans.  In the early 1990s, solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) were identified as contaminants and a treatment system was installed to remove them from the groundwater and return the treated water to the aquifer.

Ten years ago, when the base began monitoring the site, low levels of 1,4-dioxane could not be detected. New methods now make it possible to detect this chemical, according to the Navy’s news release. Tests of monitoring wells at Landfill 6 indicate the presence of 1,4-dioxane.

Web sites, including, and, classify 1,4-dioxane as a “possible” or “probable” factor in human cancer. These sites list “chronic, long term exposure” as the most likely to cause cancer. Workers inhaling the chemical at industrial sites face the greatest human danger. Laboratory animals have developed certain kidney, liver and gall bladder cancers after exposure.

One Web site calculates a person would have to drink two liters of water with a level greater than 3 ppb for more than 70 years to generate one additional cancer case out of a population of 1 million people.

Water resource plan surfaces
By Eric Berto, Whidbey News-Times
Mar 23 2005

As the crowd of approximately 12 people poured into their seats, the speakers each took a sip of water.

A fitting beginning for a presentation on the upcoming Water Resource Management Plan, which occurred Monday night in Oak Harbor. Currently under development, the plan will recommend how to protect Island County’s water.

Approximately 70 percent of the county’s residents rely on groundwater for their potable drinking water. But the status of the hundreds of aquifers is still largely unknown.

“To accurately assess how many gallons there are is impossible,” said Don Lee, chairman of the Water Resources Advisory Committee. “And you can’t do something that’s impossible.”

County residents currently draw approximately 1 billion gallons of water out of the aquifers each year. By 2025, when the county’s population is expected to expand to 100,000 residents, an additional half billion gallons will be used.

“The big thing is that nobody knows how much is down there,” said Barry Meaux, who manages a water system for approximately 30 people outside of Oak Harbor.  The plan will evolve out of five years of work by the WRAC. In an effort to address the future of the county’s water supply, it has developed a series of papers that offer suggestions of how to conserve water, Lee said.

“We’re trying to make the plan itself only 30 to 40 pages,” he said. “Maybe we have a better chance of people using it if we make it terse and to the point.”  The plan will address such threats to the aquifers as sea water intrusion. When salt water infiltrates a well, it renders that water undrinkable because of salt and other contaminants.

“The biggest threat is still sea water intrusion,” Lee said. “Most people want to live near the water, but as they develop along the coast, it’s more likely they will develop a problem.”

Oak Harbor resident Bill Applegate said he attended the forum to learn more about the future of his water supply.

“We are reliant on ground water,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most important issues in Island County.”
Applegate said that a plan for Island County has been a long time coming.

“I can’t believe all of the work that has gone into this,” he said. “When we moved here, they had no idea what was down there.”

The open house was the first of four that are planned before a draft is finished by May 9. All forums run from 6 to 8 p.m. and will occur March 23 at the Bayview Community Hall, April 4 at the Coupeville Rec Center and April 13 at the Camano Senior Center.

Minutes of the Island County Board of Health
Regular Meeting Monday April 19, 2004 (NOTE: only part of this agenda)

Members Present:  Commissioners:  William J. Byrd; Mac McDowell, Mike Shelton; Barbara Saugen, WGH Commissioner and Captain Susan B. Herrold, NC USN (Naval Hospital Oak Harbor); Roger S. Case, M.D., Executive Secretary to the Board

Absent: Mayor Patty Cohen, Oak Harbor...

Presentation: U.S. Geological Survey – related to this paper? Intrusion _Final Code_.pdf
This report was given by S.S. Sumioka, Mark Savoca, and Doug Kelly.  During the past five years USGS has conducted a study about ground water in Island County.  80% of Island County’s population uses ground water as its potable water.  The study included:

·         Estimating ground water recharge from precipitation

·         Applying a Deep Percolation Module

·         Estimating groundwater recharge in 6 study basins-South Camano, North Camano, North Whidbey, Penn Cove, Cultus Creek, and South Whidbey State Park. They considered certain variables — range of precipitation, types of soils, (most of island is made of impermeable soils), and vegetation effects on the water for recharge

·         Estimated recharge “average”: Whidbey = 5.71”; Camano = 5.98”

·         Deep Percolation model showed annual average recharge for the 6 study basins to be approximately  6”; the Chloride Mass Balance approximately 2” (within expectations).

Doug Kelly gave a brief summation of Why & What are we going to do with the information that was gathered:

—     groundwater flow modules for county

—     surface water modeling

—     watershed planning

—     model calibration (gives lots of information.)

Water Shed Planning — the assessment: Phase II (Numeric quantification of water resources)

·         looking at sea water intrusion

·         Artificial Recharge – is it possible? – how possible?

·         Readying for Phase III

Post-presentation comments: Commissioner Shelton thanked Steve Sumioka and Mark Savoca for their work in this study, and said that they could always depend upon Doug Kelly to give science-based information regarding our water and not information based on politics. . . “even though it may not be what we want to hear”.  Rufus Rose, a resident of South Whidbey, then asked if this presentation could be given to the “Old  Goats” on South Whidbey. Doug’s answer was in the affirmative.

South Whidbey RECORD, Dec. 27, 2004
Arsenic in water needs to go in 2006

Arsenic in water is odorless, tasteless and may only cause health problems if consumed in large quantities over the course of decades. Yet by 2006, many Island County residents may have to start spending big bucks to remove arsenic from their water supplies.

Doug Kelly, a hydrogeologist for Island County, said 18 to 20 percent of all Island County wells have tested for arsenic in the last couple years at levels exceeding the upcoming 10 parts per billion federal standard (ppb). When compared to the state’s other counties, this is an unusually high percentage, said Vin Sherman, Island County’s water program supervisor.

The 10 ppb standard is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Water Drinking Act. Passed in 2002, it drops the highest acceptable level of arsenic in water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb starting in 2006. That change put far more water systems in violation of the rule, Kelly said.

“When we were at 50, we had very few systems that exceeded that value,” he said.

Andy Campbell, a South Whidbey water systems manager who maintains a number of community water systems, said more than 5 to 6 percent of the water systems he tests are above the 10 ppb benchmark, at least triple the amount of water systems that were above 50 ppb.

Vin Sherman said the county’s unusually high arsenic levels is due to high levels of unconsolidated sand and gravel eroding into the water table. When water moves through an aquifer, stream or river, arsenic bonds to the iron in the sand and gravel. The arsenic is eventually drawn into community water supplies, he said.

Sherman and Kelly said arsenic has been linked to various types of cancer and other diseases, although Kelly said someone may have to drink from the same water source for 50 to 60 years to develop an illness. There’s a “one in a million” chance that someone would become ill, he said.

But with stricter federal laws going into effect about one year from now, Island County residents may have to collectively pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to either filter the arsenic from the water or use another method to meet arsenic standards.

Though many Whidbey Island communities getting an early start to meet the lower standards, the impending regulation has been met with a fair amount of resistance, said Coupeville water systems manager Clyde Desty.

“It can be a significant financial burden,” he said.

Small water systems will be hit the hardest. Desty said the smaller the number of hookups, the more each water customer will have to pay.

A typical community system will likely have to pay $40,000 and $600,000 to design and test an arsenic filter system, and to monitor it, said Andy Campbell and Desty. The whole process could take 18 months, Desty said.

Campbell said if a community can’t afford the system, state public works trust fund loans are available. He said communities should mention the arsenic levels when funding,

“Arsenic is the ticket to get the loan,” he said.

With the coming financial impact of the impending arsenic standards, Steve Hulsman of the state Department of Health noted that no affected water system is required to lower arsenic levels immediately after the new rule goes into effect. Instead, the timeline will take into consideration the levels of arsenic in the system. The higher the concentration, the more quickly water systems must act, he said.

Who is affected

County residents most affected by the new standard are those who live on a water system used by more than either 15 homes or 25 people. School and other non-transient non-community water systems day cares and schools are subject to the new requirements, as well.

Labeled as Group “A” water systems, these systems fall under the federal government’s guidelines, with enforcement authority granted to the state. The state adopted the rule on Jan. 14.

More unclear are what standards will apply to water systems used by communities with less than 15 homes, called Group “B” water systems, and individual wells. Island County’s Sherman said the state Board of Health is still deciding if the 10 ppb level will apply to the Group B water systems.

Not wanting to wait until 2006 to lower arsenic, some Whidbey Island communities are already tackling the problem, hiring water system managers.

According to water system managers Campbell and Desty, the best option to meet the upcoming arsenic standards is a filtration system. Campbell said several filtration systems have already been installed around South Whidbey, including one on a well near Sunlight Beach, Campbell said.

Desty said the filtration machine begins to work when arsenic-tainted water reaches the filtration machine’s contact tank. At that point, a chemical reaction enlarges the arsenic particles. A filter then removes the particles.

This is the most expensive option, but also appears to be the most reliable, Campbell said.


Beaches monitored for water quality
South Whidbey RECORD
May 18 2005

Safe swimming means more than knowing how or where to swim. It also means making sure the water won’t make swimmers sick. That’s why the Island County Health Department will be testing water for bacteria at five popular beaches beginning this month.

Called the BEACH program, it is funded by the state departments of Ecology and Health.

Kathleen Parvin, environmental specialist for the county health department said the BEACH program is for marine beaches only. Fresh water lakes are monitored under a separate program.

Island County received $12,000 from the state to fund this year’s program at five popular marine parks from May 31 through Sept. 16. One-half of the funds will be used for laboratory testing fees.

The five county beaches slated for weekly monitoring are Dave Mackie in Clinton, Freeland Park on Holmes Harbor, Oak Harbor City Park and Lagoon and Cavalero beach on the east side of Camano Island.

Parvin said the beaches were selected based on popularity.

Water quality will be monitored for an indicator organism call enterococci.

“The bacteria is an indicator for the risk of getting a gastrointestinal or upper respiratory illness from swimming in marine waters,” Parvin said.

Pollution can come from sewage treatment plant problems, boating waste, malfunctioning septic systems and animal waste.

Island County has participated in the program since it began in 2003 and health officials say since the inception of the BEACHES program, Island County beaches tested have met water quality standards.

The same five parks and Fort Ebey were monitored through the program in 2004.

“Fort Ebey is not on this year’s list because of its excellent water quality,” Parvin said.

There are more beaches along the 212 miles of shoreline on Whidbey and Camano that Parvin would like to monitor.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t funding to check more areas,” she said. “We can only do so many.”

Washington state has over 3,500 miles of coastal waters with 900 public recreational beaches. Seventy-two were identified this year as priority beaches for monitoring. These were chosen based on the number of people swimming, scubas diving, surfing or wading.

State hands county major victory in fight over farming rules
South Whidbey RECORD
Sep 02 2006

In a lopsided victory for Island County, a state growth board said this week that the county’s new rules for farming will protect both farmers and the islands’ streams and wetlands.  The landmark decision ends a dispute between the county and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network that stretches back to 1998.

WEAN has fought the county’s rules for farming near “critical areas” — environmentally sensitive areas with wetlands and streams — because the activist group believes the county’s regulations aren’t tough enough.  Unlike previous growth board and court rulings that resulted in split decisions, the Wednesday decision was a one-sided win for county officials.

County officials called it “unprecedented.”

“I was thrilled,” said County Commissioner Mike Shelton. “This had been going on since 1998. Here we are eight years later and we finally got a decision that we believe the people of Island County, specifically the agriculture people ... can live with,” he said.

“My hope is that they will continue to do their agriculture practices, and I think that’s critical to maintaining the rural character of Island County,” Shelton said.

In its decision, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board heaped praise on the county’s new farming rules.

“Island County has achieved compliance in an impressive way that could be a model for other jurisdictions,” the board said in its decision.  County commissioners unanimously adopted new farming rules to regulate existing farms in May.  The rules require farmers to apply “best management practices,” called BMPs, to their agriculture operations or complete custom farm plans that detail how they will manage their farms in earth-friendly ways.

WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson called parts of the growth board’s 22-page decision inaccurate. But he stopped short of saying the group would fight the ruling.  WEAN can ask the hearings board to reconsider its decision, or WEAN can appeal it to Superior Court.

“We’re evaluating this decision and we’ll be deciding whether or not we’ll appeal,” Erickson said. “We need to talk that over between the people involved in WEAN, and various people in the community.”

“It’s not a trivial decision, it’s also real expensive,” he said, adding that a challenge that would go all the way to the Court of Appeals could cost between $30,000 and $50,000.  WEAN has intensely criticized the new farming rules, which were highly controversial with farmers, as well. The rules led to the biggest public hearings in Island County history and attracted crowds numbering in the hundreds. Many farmers said the rules were excessive and would drive them out of business.

WEAN, however, said the rules did not go far enough. The activist group claimed that existing and ongoing agriculture operations is hurting environmentally sensitive lands, and polluting streams and groundwater.

WEAN also said the county’s plan to protect critical areas focused too much on water quality, and was too reactive, because nothing would happen until state water quality standards are violated.  The group complained that no one would be able to know if farmers were following the new rules, because farm plans will be kept secret from the county and public.

WEAN also said the regulations were not based on “best available science,” which the state requires as the basis for creating critical areas regulations.

The growth board, however, lauded the new rules.

“Island County has done a thorough analysis of its local circumstances and (has) come up with an admirable commitment to preserving its rural character while protecting the functions and values of critical areas...The involvement of landowners is one of the many strengths of the county’s program, since it makes the consideration of the protection of critical areas an everyday part of agricultural practices,” the decision said.

“The county’s involvement in every step of the process — from gathering questionnaires to working with the Conservation District on farm plans, to investigation of complaints, to monitoring of water quality, to prompt adaptive management of ineffective BMPs — represents an active engagement in the protection of critical areas,” the growth board concluded.

“The growth board unanimously ruled in favor of the county on every single point - every single point,” said Phil Bakke, Island County’s planning director.

“I think this is a community victory, whether you own agricultural land or a home next to the golf course,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer or a homeowner on a little lot, it goes a long ways to protect rural character.”

Even so, the new rules are not popular with farmers who already feel over-regulated.

“One of the things that I’ve always been concerned about is even though the county has won this, this puts a significant burden on farmers,” Shelton said.  It won’t be business as usual for farmers, he added.  Farmers will be need to fill out a questionnaire, and some will be required to complete custom farm plans.

“I just hope that farmers will do that rather than saying ‘This is too much trouble, I’m just going to bag the whole thing and forget about agriculture,’” Shelton said.

Farmers who don’t complete the questionnaires will lose their ability to farm by using only BMPs, and will be forced to abide by even more restrictive critical areas regulations.  Erickson, of WEAN, was skeptical that the new rules will work.

“Overall, our expectation is that water quality is going to be impacted and is going to continue to deteriorate because this ordinance is not going to do the job,” Erickson said.

Editorial: Growth should pay its way
Whidbey News-Times
Oct 11 2006

Island County will grow by 8,000 people every five years from now through 2025.

So says the state Office of Financial Management, which came up with a 20-year population projection of 110,050 people by 2025, up more than 42 percent from the present population.

What the office doesn’t say is where to put all these people and how to provide them with the resources they need.

It’s easy to draw larger growth boundaries around Whidbey Island’s three incorporated towns, and easy to persuade builders to construct homes for all these newcomers. The island life, after all, is appealing to millions of well-heeled citizens sweltering in the southwest sun or freezing in the northeast winters. And home prices here aren’t bad compared to there.

But where do we get the resources to handle all these new people? Only Oak Harbor has an outside water source, and that is limited by how much Anacortes can sell us from the Skagit River. Elsewhere, the county is entirely dependent on ground water.

With non-source pollution a problem, the county hardly needs thousands of more septic systems. But existing sewer systems are centered in the three towns and limited to how much growth they can handle. Who’s going to pay for the major expansions needed to accommodate the increased population?

In Island County, growth has not been paying for itself. It might be time to rethink the old idea of adopting impact fees for basic necessities, like schools, roads, parks and sewer systems. Islanders can’t afford to continue to pay for everyone else to move here.

Numbers don’t add up for opponents of Freeland’s embattled sewer project
South Whidbey Record Reporter
Apr 17 2011, 10:13 AM

Cost is the primary objection for opponents of a proposed $40 million sewer system for Freeland, but no one appears to know what the real costs would be.

“This ship is dead in the water,” said property owner Lou Malzone, who’s against the sewer plan as it currently stands.

“Unless some agency comes up with a ton of money that isn’t there, this isn’t going to happen,” Malzone said Thursday.

At least one party may have a closer handle on what the costs to property owners would be as things now stand for the sewer proposal that has been in the works for years — Macaulay & Associates of Everett.

The consulting firm, hired by the Freeland Water and Sewer District, conducted a special assessment of the 471 commercial and residential parcels that would be included if a local improvement district (LID) were to be formed.  Gary Hess, district engineer, said Macaulay determined that the properties would only support an LID of about $22 million, while the district was proposing an LID of about $34 million.

The appraiser was hired to calculate the assessments that property owners would pay — based on factor such as parcel size, zoning, existing improvements, and the “highest and best use” of the parcel — but said the decline in property values and other factors made financing for the project unreachable. 
The news, conveyed to commissioners verbally, was the main reason the sewer project was put on indefinite hold this past week, Hess said.

“Where’s the Macaulay report?” Malzone asked, insisting that it must contain detailed cost estimates for each parcel in the project. “That’s what everybody wants to know.”

Hess said he hasn’t received the consultant’s written report, and that he didn’t know if the district will ask for it anytime soon, given that the proposed LID formation has been postponed.

“That’s up to the commissioners,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Short said Friday the board would take up the question of the Macaulay report at its next workshop, scheduled for Monday, April 25 at the Freeland Library.

“It’s not finished as I understand it,” Short said of the report. “We can probably get it in draft form, but I doubt it would be complete enough to send out to the constituents, although I could be wrong.”

Meanwhile, ballpark figures for the project compiled by another consultant were released earlier by the district, and they too have raised the hackles of opponents.  That report was issued by Katy Isaksen & Associates, a Seattle-based consulting firm that specializes in financial planning for sewers and other utility projects.  It says the new sewer system would cost a total of $39.9 million if no additional grants are obtained, or $37.8 million if the district gets a $10 million grant to help pay for the design and construction of the system.

Hess said the district has applied for a number of grants that would fulfill the $10 million goal, but that none have been promised to the district so far.

“It would obviously be better if we got more,” he said.

The difference in total costs listed in the report is due to the difference in financing costs; estimated financing costs are $5.4 million if no additional grants are obtained, or $3.3 million if $10 million in grants come through.  District officials say there is $5.5 million in grant funding “in hand,” and the number represents a $1 million grant from the Centennial Clean Water Fund and $4.5 million from Island County funding for rural development.

The Centennial Clean Water Fund grant was used for the district’s land purchase for the system. Of the $4.5 million in county money, approximately $2.5 million was budgeted for planning and engineering, while a $100,000 annual grant would be used to make payments on the debt for 20 years.

Isaksen’s report said property owners would need to help cover $29.5 million in costs if no other grants are received, or $17.4 million if the district gets the sought-after $10 million.  If no other grants are received, a property that has the equivalent of one residential home (or ERU, for equivalent residential unit), would pay $19,100 in assessments for the new sewer system.

But that’s just the start. Property owners would also have to pay to hook up to the system.  An owner of an existing home would be expected to pay an additional $10,500 (bringing the total cost to $29,600). Those costs would cover installation costs for a new septic tank, pumping system, electrical connection, a service line to connect to a sewer main and restoration costs.  An owner of a new home would pay an additional $6,600 (total cost, $25,700). The estimate does not include the costs of landscaping and restoration after the sewer hook-up is installed.

Owners of commercial properties would pay more than residential property owners.  Current estimates for what commercial properties would pay is based on how much water would be used, based on the number of ERUs assigned to the property. One ERU equals 563 cubic feet (roughly 4,211 gallons) a month.

The connection costs for the average “small” commercial property are estimated at $11,400, and $12,400 for the average “large” commercial property.  Property owners would also have a monthly sewer bill after the system is installed. A typical residential homeowner would face a $64 bill each month.  Hook-up costs would be lower for residential and commercial property owners if more grant funding is obtained by the district.

Under the scenario where the district gets $10 million in grants, the owner of a property with one home would pay $11,300 in assessments. When added to the hook-up costs, that bill would rise to $21,800 for the owner of an existing home. New homeowners would pay $11,300, which would rise to $17,900 when connection costs are included.

District officials note that the actual charges would be different, and would be based on a “special benefit analysis” that would detail the assessment that each property owner would pay.  Those cost estimates, however, would not be the bill that property owners actually pay. The final assessments on properties would be determined after the LID is formed, so the numbers could go up or down.

“The whole thing has to be reexamined,” Malzone said. “We need something on a smaller scale, with more rational staging.”

He and other critics have urged the district to form a citizens advisory committee to work with commissioners in the next year to devise a more workable plan. Opponents also have recommended that the district commission be increased from three to five members.  Short called and advisory committee “a good idea, as long as it’s clear what its role would be.”

However it’s accomplished, the costs have to come down, Malzone said.

“Until we come up with reasonable costs, there will be opposition,” he said.

“There’s a lot more work to be done with the public and to reduce the cost of the project,” Hess agreed. “But we need to focus on not going into this prejudged.”

Environmental concerns sparked by Oak Harbor sewer plant siting
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
Apr 15 2011, 3:37 PM · UPDATED

It doesn’t have to smell like roses, but Oak Harbor’s new wastewater treatment plant better not stink. It should also be environmentally sensitive and built to last.

Those were the kinds of comments aired at a meeting at Skagit Valley College Tuesday evening. Designed to garner input from the public about where the new facility should be located, it was the second of three such meetings the city has planned.

“It was a great response, a great turnout,” City Engineer Eric Johnston said. “It was encouraging to have the pubic so engaged in the process.”

Oak Harbor’s existing facilities on the Seaplane Base and at Windjammer Park are outdated and city officials hope to have a replacement treatment plant built and in operation by 2017. The price tag for the new facility is estimated at $70 million.

The five sites under consideration include Beachview Farm just outside the city’s western boundaries, Windjammer Park, the Oak Harbor Marina, the old city shops on SE Eighth Avenue, and vacant land on the Seaplane Base on Crescent Harbor.

The city council is expected to make a final selection by fall or early winter.

More than 50 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, not including city staff and elected officials present. The crowd was briefed on each of the five possible sites — how they were selected, the types of technology that may be used, even what they may look like.

No one from the public said they specifically favored or disliked any particular location, rather most questions focused on broader issues, such as where the plant’s treated effluent might be released. Several had concerns that Swan Lake or Puget Sound off West Beach Road are under consideration.

Jerry Pitsch, a West Beach Road resident, said the area is critical for salmon habitat restoration and he is worried about potential impacts from even treated effluent.

According to Brian Matson of Carollo, the national engineering firm the city hired to help select possible facility sites, neither location is being seriously considered for discharge. The area off West Beach contains shellfish tracts that could be adversely effected.

Others voiced similar concerns about potential discharge sites in Crescent Harbor and Oak Harbor. Johnston said that Oak Harbor is the strongest possibility of all the candidates for a variety of reasons. It’s the most affordable option due to existing infrastructure, but it also make the most sense environmentally.

Although he stressed that discharge from modern treatment plants is extraordinarily clean, Oak Harbor bay’s proximity to the city will likely keep it closed to shellfish harvesting while other areas remain open. That could change, however, with the installation of a discharge pipe.

The smell of treatment plants was also addressed. Oak Harbor resident Gregor Strohm asked if either of the two treatment technologies being considered is better than the other because odor from the facility at Windjammer Park is noticeable. Johnston said improvements in technology and treatment make it a non-issue.

“Without saying the plant won’t smell, it won’t smell,” Johnston said.

Several others asked questions or spoke at the meeting, including members of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. In a later interview, group member Marianne Edain said she was relieved to learn that the West Beach outfall idea had been abandoned but was critical about the types of technologies being considered.

Both types, membrane bioreactor and activated sludge, are older technologies that are “on their way out,” she said. City officials should be looking into sustainable facilities that are capable of creating electricity or capturing methane gas, she said.

“They seem to have rejected that out of hand,” Edain said.

Johnston disagrees. Activated sludge is older technology, but is entirely capable to meeting water quality standards over the next 20 years. As for membrane bioreactor, he said it was “cutting edge” and widely considered the most advanced available today.

Also, both technologies are methods of treating waste and don’t preclude the ability for sustainable practices. In fact, Johnston said the city is considering adaptive reuse of wastewater for agricultural use and methane capture, Johnson said.

“Our goal has been to have the most environmentally responsible project we can,” he said.

The only reason such options haven’t been discussed yet is because it’s still early in the process and city officials have been focused primarily on selecting a location and nailing down the kind of technology to be used.

Once that’s done, you can be sure such options will be discussed in detail, he said.

Sewer Surprise!
Whidbey News-Times
By Jessie Stensland
Apr 21 2007

Many residents of the Dillard’s Addition, an Oak Harbor waterfront neighborhood, were surprised when work crews started digging up their streets.

They were even more shocked to learn that a unique type of sewer system was being installed and that they would have to help pay for it, to the tune of an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 for each household.

Several of the residents complained at the Oak Harbor City Council meeting held Tuesday night.

“Being kept out of the loop has created a great deal of turmoil in my neighborhood and has created a lot of distrust in the city of Oak Harbor,” said Duane Dillard, a 40-year resident of the neighborhood, which was named after his parents.

As Dillard explained, the residents aren’t just upset that they weren’t notified about the project, but they don’t like the type of pressurized sewer system that was chosen for them.

“We would have liked to have some input,” he said.

In an unusual response to public comments, City Administrator Paul Schmidt defended the city staff, explaining that city code was followed. He pointed out that staff held a special meeting for the residents after they complained. But he hinted that the code may need to be tweaked.

“That’s not to say this is a perfect system,” he said.

Councilman Larry Eaton pointed out that this wasn’t the first time that residents have complained about a lack of communication coming from city staff. Afterward, he said while he has great respect for the dedicated staff, communication continues to be a problem — from changing the zoning on car dealerships without letting them know to simply not returning phone calls.

“Even if we had to hand carry the message to the public, we should have done that,” Eaton said.

On March 6, the Oak Harbor City Council OK’d the preliminary approval of a latecomer’s agreement submitted by Rob Anderson of the Granite Park Holdings Company LLC. His company is constructing two houses in the neighborhood and they need to connect to city sewers. He proposed extending sewer lines to the entire subdivision and applying for a latecomer’s agreement, under which residents would reimburse him for the cost of the lines when they hook in.

City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said the neighborhood, which annexed into the city in 1992, was supposed to be hooked into sewers soon thereafter under the annexation agreement.

Bleyhl wrote the city code dealing with sewer construction and public notice years ago. He admits that he only had gravity sewers in mind when he wrote it, which are the typical system and are unlikely to cause controversy.

As Bleyhl explained it, the city isn’t required to tell the neighborhood residents of the meeting for preliminary approval of the latecomer’s agreement. He said most communities don’t even hold a meeting for preliminary approval. But he said there’s nothing that would have stopped the city from notifying residents as a courtesy, though it was advertised in the News-Times.

Bleyhl said notice is required, however, for the more-significant meeting for final approval of the latecomer’s agreement. At that meeting, which will be held after construction is complete, the council will decide whether to approve the latecomer’s agreement and if the cost of building the system — a cost which will be passed on to the residents — is reasonable.

Yet Dillard points out that now it’s too late for residents to have any input into the system itself. He said that, with the unique type of system, each residence will have to have its own pump and grinder. He heard that the pumps have to be replaced after five years. The homeowners will be left without sewage service when the power goes out, unless they have individual generators.

Dillard said Anderson originally designed a regular gravity system, but switched because it was too expensive.

“I would have rather had a simpler, hassle-free system,” Dillard said.

While Bleyhl said city code states that the 26 homes currently on septic systems need to connect to the sewer system as soon as it’s complete, he said the council could decide to give residents some leeway.

In response to the controversy, Councilman Paul Brewer made a motion to set the issue on the agenda for the next council meeting, but the other council members rejected the idea. Councilwoman Sue Karahalios suggested a workshop.

Island County unveils new wetlands regulations
Gayle Saran/Record file 
May 12 2007

For property owners who own land with wetlands, getting permits is going to become a lot more complex. There will also be no easy answers.  And that’s a good thing, said Phil Bakke, director of the Island County planning department.

The county has just finished revising rules that cover lands with wetlands, the first major rewrite of the regulations in more than two decades.

The revisions are necessary as the county updates its “critical areas ordinance,” the set of rules that restrict development on properties with environmentally sensitive features such as streams, wetlands and steep slopes.

“Of all the critical area components, wetlands is the most complicated and controversial,” Bakke said.

Although Island County was the first in the state to adopt wetland regulations in the early 1980s, little has been done to the rules since then.

“We’ve made very few changes since 1984,” Bakke said.

“The science has evolved tremendously since 1984. So what you have here is basically a complete rewrite of the ordinance,” he said.

In the earlier set of rules, the no-go areas around wetlands called “buffers” were based solely on the type of the wetland being regulated.

That will change.

Now, the county will categorize wetlands into four classes, and the county will work with property owners to determine the size of buffers, which will range from 20 feet to 300 feet based on a number of factors.

But Bakke said that means there will no longer be quick-and-easy answers for property owners at the permit county.

The county learned its lesson during its rewrite of critical areas rules for farmlands last year, which led to public meetings packed with angry farmers and disappointed environmentalists and the resumption of a lawsuit against the county over the regulations. Some thought the farm rules were too restrictive, while others thought the regulations were too lax.

“We really have taken from the ag experience in developing this program,” Bakke said. “People wanted us to be catering our regulations to what they have on site.”

For wetlands, the county will consider the type of wetland, the vegetation found there, and the use of the land before applying a set of rules to the property.

To assist property owners, the county has created a “welands identification guide” to assist property owners.  A brochure explaining the changes to the program should also start landing in mailboxes across Island County this weekend, Bakke said.  A series of public workshops on the new wetlands rules will also be held this month and next.

County officials said property owners should bring their property tax parcel number if they want to meet individually with a county planner to learn how the new regulations may affect their land.

The schedule is:

Monday, May 21 (6 to 8 p.m.) at South Camano Grange Hall, 2221 S. Camano Dr., Camano Island;

Wednesday, May 30 (6 to 8 p.m.) at the Race Road Fire Station, 1164 Race Road, south of Coupeville;

Thursday, May 31 (7 to 9 p.m.) at the Taylor Road Fire Station, 3440 Taylor Road, North Whidbey;

Saturday, June 2 (10 a.m. to noon) at Four Springs Lake Preserve, 585 Lewis Lane, Camano Island;

Wednesday, June 6 (6 to 8 p.m.) at the Race Road Fire Station;

Thursday, June 7 (6 to 8 p.m.) at Trinity Lutheran Church, 18341 Highway 525, Freeland.

The county planning commission is expected to review the rules in September and November, with the new regulations eventually going before the county commissioners for approval.

Information on the new rules, including the draft ordinance and studies conducted in support of the regulations:

TIDAL LIFE: The story on the water
Published: July 06, 2008 1:00 PM
Updated: July 06, 2008 1:20 PM

One day last August, after snorkeling off our Holmes Harbor beach, my son stood dripping on the lawn.

“What happened to the eelgrass?” he said.

“What about it?”

“It’s gone.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, thinking of the times I’d been tangled in the long strands.

“Nope, nothing but sand. I did see three kelp crabs. I’ve never seen more than one before.”

“You’ve been honored.” These reclusive, long-limbed crabs are hard to spot.

“Not really,” he said. “They were dead.”

A few days later my neighbor Gerry returned from kayaking saying he could see nothing but sand on the bottom of the harbor. He, too, asked, “What happened to the eelgrass?”

Knowing eelgrass was important, Gerry and I sought answers. He called state agencies that monitor eelgrass meadows. I sent panicky notes to scientists who study eelgrass, crabs and water quality.

My friend Sandy Wylie-Echeverria, of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor lab, told me loss of eelgrass has a cascading effect.

“When you lose eelgrass,” he said, “you lose structure in the water column.”

In other words, there’s no place for little fish to hide and grow into big fish. The sediment changes. Invertebrates, waterfowl and salmon all suffer.

Gerry and I jumped to conclusions. There must be one culprit, scofflaw or evildoer to blame for the disappearance of eelgrass. We learned instead that a major cause is all of us. The potential salvation is the same, all of us. The reason we should care about eelgrass disappearing — drum roll please — all of us.

And what are we all doing that can harm eelgrass and other sensitive species? Nothing diabolical, just living our lives. Cleaning our roofs with moss killers and letting the residue flow to the bay. Planting roses, then treating them with spray that drifts over the bay. Dosing hot tubs with chemicals, then draining them into ditches that lead to the harbor. Cleaning up after our dogs and throwing their poop into the bay. Taking our kids water skiing, then cleaning the boat with detergents as it sits right on the waters of the bay.

For the privilege of living at the waterfront, we willingly pay a premium.

But Gerry and I demonstrated something else we need: to pay attention. We’re the front line, here to notice changes in the sea we look out on every day. It’s not a bad job; we also enjoy front row seats on the antics of the aquatic world. The seasons of marine life get ingrained in us. We get up one morning thinking it’s been too long since we’ve heard a loon, then a few days later wake to that haunting laugh.

On the flip side, we’re here year-in and year-out, witnessing reduced numbers of scoters, realizing at the end of summer that no gray whales have cruised by, watching the very reasons we came here disappearing. We have great views, but one of the oh-so-lovely sights is the local outfall that dumps tainted runoff onto the beach.

Our bluffs slough, algae blooms perfume the air and our shellfish are inedible. Something is wrong, but we’re not sure what to do.

In the fight for Puget Sound, our worst enemy is our own innate desire to do things the easiest, cheapest way. Another is the confusing array of products and methods touted as “environmentally friendly.” No one has time to sort it all out.

I’ve been dragging my feet about some house and garden projects because I know my choices matter to the health of the Sound and I’m unsure what’s best.

Other islanders are in the same boat. So, rather than grab the quick-and-easy fix, I’m diving in to look for better methods and report what I find. I’ll investigate such topics as bluffs, roof maintenance, native plants, hot tubs, marine mammals, sea birds, cleaning products and more on eelgrass.

On Whidbey no one lives far from the beach. Runoff makes its way from every part of the island to the waters that cradle this exceptional community. No matter where we live, we need to do things differently now for the future of Puget Sound. We’re writing the next chapter in the adventure of island life. Lets make it a blockbuster with thousands of heroes.