Speakers chip in on county aquifer protection plan

Two of four speakers at a Tuesday meeting want the protection area expanded.

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WALLA WALLA -- The latest chapter in a long-running debate over a vital resource played out Tuesday before Walla Walla County commissioners.

Commissioners took comments on proposed new regulations to protect the county's Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas, which recharge aquifers for potable water. The county has been at work since May 2010 to redraw its critical aquifer regulations after the state Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled they were inadequate.

The regulations are part of the county's Critical Areas Regulations, which are mandated by the state Growth Management Act. Along with aquifer recharge areas, other critical areas are geologically hazardous areas, frequently-flooded areas, wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas.

At Tuesday's hearing, commissioners heard from four speakers. Two advocated for increasing the proposed protection area and adding other restrictions while one speaker, representing the Port of Walla Walla, argued for excluding the Walla Walla Regional Airport from the critical area designation. The fourth speaker, Sheryl Cox, questioned how the proposed regulations would affect farmers and other agriculturalists.

After the hearing, Commissioners Perry Dozier, Gregg Loney and Greg Tompkins closed the public comment period.

They then directed staff to draw up documentation incorporating information received during the public comment period.

The board has until Dec. 5 to deliver its new regulations to the hearings board unless it is granted an extension.

The challenge to the regulations was brought by Citizens for Good Governance and Futurewise. In its 2010 ruling, the board said the county failed to use "best available science" to determine which parts of the 190 square miles of the county should be designated as "Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas."

Nancy Ball, who spoke for CGG, recapped the group's position that the entire shallow gravel aquifer should be included in the critical aquifer area. Land in that area would be deemed to be highly vulnerable to contamination.

CGG and Futurewise also said the regulations should include a prohibition against the discharge of contaminants within the critical aquifer area that certain uses, such as generation of hazardous waste, should be subject to additional standards or prohibited.

Dan Clark, representing Walla Walla 2020, another citizens' group, also spoke in support of the additional regulations requested by CGG and Futurewise. Clark also criticized the Port of Walla Walla's argument that the airport property should be excluded from the critical aquifer area designation.

Speaking for the Port, Tadas Kisielius said the 1994-era map used by the county to determine where the shallow gravel aquifer is outdated. A more recent, and finer-scale map, should take precedence over the older map consistent with the requirement for using the "best available science."

In a letter to commissioners, the Port argued that if the more recent map is used, "then the airport would fall into the low to moderate susceptibility zone and ... would not be included in the (Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas)."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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