Aquifer-recharge arguments heard

County rules are being challenged by groups who say the regulations don't do enough to protect drinking water.

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WALLA WALLA -- A state board heard arguments Thursday on a challenge to regulations intended to protect Walla Walla County's drinking water supplies.

The meeting by the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board concerned a challenge by two groups to the county's ordinances for Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas. The ordinances are part of the county's Critical Areas Regulations, which cover aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, wetlands, geologically hazardous areas and frequently flooded areas.

In 2010, the county was ordered by the board to redraw its critical aquifer regulations after Citizens for Good Governance and Futurewise filed a complaint. The county approved new rules in January, but the groups maintain the ordinances are still not adequate.

The regulations lay out what can and can't be done on lands deemed as critical areas. Properties designated as being in the critical aquifer recharge area can be subject to additional development regulations and limitations or prohibitions regarding certain activities.

Thursday's hearing was the latest step in the process to determine if the county has come into compliance with the state's Growth Management Act. The board made no decision following the close of Thursday's compliance hearing.

Citizens for Good Governance and Futurewise were represented by attorney Jeff Eustis, legal committee chairman for Futurewise. The county was represented by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte.

Nolte was joined by Tadas Kisielius, an attorney representing the Port of Walla Walla, which has joined the county in defending the new regulations as they pertain to the Walla Walla Regional Airport properties managed by the Port.

Eustis argued the county remains out of compliance with the law and the regulations fail to protect wells and potable water supplies. Both CGG and Futurewise, he said, hold that the county's designation of its Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas does not go far enough and that "the regulations do not appear to be the result of a reasoned process."

Nolte argued CGG and Futurewise have not met the burden of proof needed to support their case. "The petitioners need to show that the county screwed up the formula" used to determine which areas are vulnerable to contamination, he said. In addition, the new regulations approved in January have addressed the concerns raised by critics and comply with the requirements of the law.

Growth management board members Raymond Paolella and Margaret Pageler presided over the hearing. A third board member, Joyce Mulliken, was unable to attend, Paolella said.

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

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