The County Misleads Public And PC On Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas
(and may impact in stream flows that have implications for the Nooksack)
The planning department asserts that it is having the PC review the “easy” stuff on Thursday, which is rather misleading. One of those “easy” things involves CARAs (Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas), which is all about protecting ground water supplies (quality and quantity) and regulating the sources of harm. According to the staff, there were no comments and no Best Available Science submitted on this point. That is factually incorrect.
This information was presented on a day when the strongest environmental advocates on the TAC (Wendy Steffensen and Oliver Grah) were not present and the strongest advocate on the CAC (Myself) was not present. It was given to us at the end of a very long process when everyone was tired.
But to assert that there are no problems with our CARAs borders is bad faith. We are a county of special concern for the Department of Ecology, along with Yakima County, because we have some of the highest nitrate concentrations in drinking wells in the state. The problem is clear and established through years of study. We have very high and shallow ground water tables in Whatcom county in areas with dairy farms and livestock. It is manure that is causing the nitrate contamination. I know that. Staff knows that. Farmers know that. The tribes know that. But the county intends not to do a single thing about it. In fact, cow shit is not even referenced anywhere in the county CAO, not even a reference to AG activities!
Instead, it is suppressing information that was supplied through the CAO review process. I provided BAS on CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) and studies on the Sumas Aquifer that are being ignored, except for one poster. Wendy Steffesen sent in BAS and some recommended code changes for CARA’s that are being ignored based on Cliff Strong’s claim that she submitted the information after a due date that none of us were aware of. Yes, that is right. The staff if deliberately ignoring BAS and comments provided by CAC And TAC members. How is this acceptable? I suspect (but have no proof) this has the Executive’s blessing.
Why is this being done? To protect the AG industry which refuses to accept any responsibility for this problem. In particular, George Boggs was involved to ensure that farmers here are not going to be required to line their leaking clay manure lagoons with a synthetic liner as was required in a Yakima out of court settlement. All the farmers care about is the cost for them, rather than the family that may be suffering blue baby syndrome from excess nitrates.
I have posted the WAC (the legal rules that the county must follow) for CARAs below.
The WAC requires “A classification strategy for aquifer recharge areas should be to maintain the quality, and if needed, the quantity of the groundwater, with particular attention to recharge areas of high susceptibility.
(a) In recharge areas that are highly vulnerable, studies should be initiated to determine if groundwater contamination has occurred. Classification of these areas should include consideration of the degree to which the aquifer is used as a potable water source, feasibility of protective measures to preclude further degradation, availability of treatment measures to maintain potability, and availability of alternative potable water sources.”
We know that many wells in the Sumas Aquifer have high susceptibility, but the regulations are simply not adequate for protection because these problems are long standing. Since many farmers use farm plans to address manure management, and farm plans are secret (Yes, secret!) from the public, this is in conflict with the WAC provisions. The exemption from public disclosure was meant to protect proprietary business practices, not public health and safety practices. The farmers can waive the exemption if they want to, and we must require this for any farmers seeking farm plans.
The real problem is over-application of manure on the ground, and that is governed under state Dept. of AG practices under the honor system.The Critical Area rules establish minimum standards and do not prevent the county from imposing higher standards. It is clear that the county must do so. The PC should require the staff to include the BAS that both Wendy’s provided and review the recommendations from Wendy and Oliver Grah. The problem is that Wendy is gone and not here to speak up.
But I think I know another aspect of this issue that might encourage others to come out and speak before the PC. Tribal Treaty Rights over water. The WAC also states that, “(c) Some aquifers may also have critical recharging effects on streams, lakes, and wetlands that provide critical fish and wildlife habitat. Protecting adequate recharge of these aquifers may provide additional benefits in maintaining fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas.” As I read this, this could have impact on matters pertaining to in stream flow issues for tributaries of the Nooksack. (Although I am not an expert by any means on this matter.)
Please, ask the PC to review the studies that I submitted and that Wendy submitted as well as her recommended changes, as well as those that I mention in here regarding farm plans. Whatever we do, we must shake the administration up and let it know that status quo is not acceptable. The connection between AG and nitrate contamination needs to be spelled out in black and white and made very clear.