Walla Walla County critical-areas rule found lacking

A state board has ordered Walla Walla County to redraw rules relating to potable water wells.

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WALLA WALLA -- A state board has ordered Walla Walla County to redraw its Critical Areas Regulations in regard to protection of potable water wells.

The ruling by the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board sided with a two groups who challenged the ordinance after it was approved in August.

Citizens for Good Governance and Futurewise alleged the county had failed to comply with state laws for protection of gravel aquifers that recharge wells that provide drinking water. The three-member growth management board held a hearing on the challenge in March and issued its decision Monday.

The board ruled the county failed to use "best available science" to determine which parts of the 190 square miles of gravel aquifer in the county should be designated as "critical aquifer recharge areas" for potable water wells.

The board has given the county until October to comply with its order to come into compliance with the state Growth Management Act.

The aquifer protection issue was the only portion of the critical areas regulations objected to by CGG and Futurewise, said Nancy Ball, Citizens for Good Governance member.

"Really they did a good job on the rest of the ordinance," she said today.

Citizens for Good Governance filed letters with commissioners about its concerns with the aquifer designation and protection during the public comment period in late 2008. Commissioners delayed final approval of the ordinance until they had thoroughly examined the CGG's objections, but they ultimately decided to disagree and approve the update, Ball said.

Tom Glover, county director of Community Development, said he had no comment at this time on the ruling.

"I'll need to meet with commissioners to discuss the ruling so the board can decide how they wish to proceed," he said.

What is a critical area?

Required by the state Growth Management Act, all counties and cities that have opted to plan under the act are required to protect lands defined as "critical areas" within their boundaries.

There are five critical areas. They are geologically hazardous areas, frequently-flooded areas, critical aquifer recharge areas, wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas.

According to state law, critical areas regulations will apply to agricultural areas, but not agricultural activities. Agricultural activities will not be affected until December 2011, pending the outcome and recommendations of a study being conducted by the Ruckelshaus Center and subsequent action by the state Legislature.

Source: Walla Walla County Community Development Department
Walla Walla County Critical-areas Final Decision and Order

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