The County Commissioners requested and received a staff briefing on Tuesday, September 29th from 4-5:15pm all about the City of Yelm’s water issues that have garnered so much attention in recent months.
Commissioners Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela were all very interested and engaged in learning about the nuances of what Commissioner Romero described as one of the most critical issues in the years to come for government.
The Commissioners and the County Administrator received comments from:
Thurston County Planning Dept. (nee Environmental Stewardship)
Thurston County Watershed Planning Group
WA. State Dept. of Ecology
Thurston County Environmental Health Dept.
City of Yelm Administrator Shelly Badger as well as additional Dept. of Ecology personnel were in the audience, along with several local Yelm citizens.
While open to the public to observe, the public was not invited to interact in this briefing.
Some of the statements by the presenters were very vague and potentially misleading, however the Commissioners asked some tough questions and were not intimidated by the daunting info presented to them, nor the apparent, smug tone of the presenters.
A few examples of the issues brought forward that the Commissioners were aware to ask some very pointed follow-up questions:
1. Staff: If a city like Yelm does not get the water rights they desire to grow, then a situation will be created where people will be forced to go outside the city’s boundaries and drill exempt wells (private county property owners using under 5,000 gallons a day may drill an exempt well) which will be to the detriment of the aquifer and the County.
Commissioner Romero picked up on this and asked questions about this statement, which went into a discourse about how much water was actually available and was there some quantifiable way to know how much water is in the county.
2. Commissioner Romero asked why the Commissioners were not notified of nor did the County respond to the City of Yelm MDNS during the public comment period.
Staff answered very evasively with alot of talk about what the County’s roll is in the Watershed Plan, and really did not fully address this issue the Commissioner raised.
3. Commissioner Valenzuela was a very astute listener and showed she understood the situation very well, especially when presented with the City of Yelm details on withdrawing their MDNS. She asked about the proposed 10 foot draw down in area wells, which showed she had been listening asking what period of time that 10 foot draw down occurred. Unfortunately, staff did not know.
All of that is in the MDNS where the engineering report shows that the city intends to move all of their wells to the SW Area (Thurston Highlands) and the effect of this is a 10-23 foot draw down or more to local well levels, affecting County property owners downstream of the aquifer and outside Yelm’s City limits, over a 30 year period.
Surprisingly not mentioned by Staff was the fact that on July 20, 2009, Ecology REVERSED the decision of the Thurston County Conservancy Board and said the City of Yelm was not approved to use the privately contracted water from the McMonigle water rights, leaving Yelm in a precarious position where their Draft Water System Plan may not be viable and the city could already be pumping more water than their allocated 796 acre feet per year. The Commissioners were told that the City of Yelm is in a long line-up of water rights applications Ecology is considering and would not receive any new water rights for at least a few years, if then.
Finally, Commissioner Cathy Wolfe said she found these briefings to be very valuable, as did all three Commissioners and asked for another briefing at the first of 2010, adding that she was particularly excited to get up-to-speed in gaining more knowledge about water issues…
The frankness each of these Commissioners exhibited in saying they knew little of these complicated water issues was refreshing. By their naivety in asking simple questions that often times were answered by undocumented and not-well-informed views, these 3 Commissioners certainly cast ripples that will be seen in the weeks, months and years ahead.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THURSTON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR ASKING FOR THIS BRIEFING FOR THEMSELVES AND ALL OF THE PARTICIPANTS.