This is the first in a series of posts replying to the assumption by Lacey’s city manager Greg Cuoio that mitigation is a good way to provide more water for the city of Lacey.
Water in the State of Washington has a very few actual owners. When we talk about water rights, we are talking about permission to use water, essentially to borrow it for a time. Water rights are not a conveyance of ownership. The only owners in Washington are the federal government, based on their reserved ownership from before Washington was a state, the state based on what they were granted from the federal government, and the Tribes, the original owners who reserved water rights in the treaties. In other words, the original owners never gave up their interest. Everyone else seeks permission through water rights to use water. Lacey falls into this category.
The State of Washington can only authorize permission to use the portion of the water that they own or control. This amount is clearly not all of the water. When the Tribes reserved water in treaties, some of it is for the fish: instream flows that sustain the aquatic environment and assure that fish like salmon can survive and reproduce in perpetuity. There must be water in streams and the Squaxin Island Tribe is willing to protect that right, that ownership, that property.
The problem arises when some selfish parties want uncontrolled access to as much water as they can get, regardless of how their interest affects anyone else. They do not care if they dry up streams as long as they can do what they want. Have you ever checked out Woodland Creek during the summer as it flows through Lacey? That’s right – it runs dry (an oxymoron) in places. While there are multiple reasons why this happens, one of them is that Lacey pumps water out of the ground for its municipal water system. This lowers the level of the groundwater aquifer and cuts off flow to the stream channel. This situation exists to varying degrees all over southern Puget Sound.
Lacey is working with other municipalities to gain access to more water to fuel more growth of housing developments and shopping centers that identify the trademark feel of the Lacey environment. They know that water is limited as they have been under a moratorium for new hookups in the urban growth area. One would think they would be sensitive to the issues and the other players that they must navigate if they are going to continue their unsustainable growth. Yet they have continued to act preemptively and without an accurate presentation of the facts.
All of the streams and the Deschutes River in WRIA 13 are closed to further consumptive appropriation. This includes diversion of surface water and it also includes the withdrawal of groundwater that would impact the surface water flows of these streams. All of the groundwater in this area is related to surface water flows as a product of the last glaciation. Some of the jurisdictions are interested in developing a new well field out near McAllister Springs. Even though the physical location is within the McAllister Creek watershed, the groundwater withdrawals will have an effect on the Deschutes River flows. The Squaxin Island Tribe has long pointed out this circumstance, and in recent years modeling of groundwater movement has confirmed this fact. And there lies the rub: how can you create additional impacts on a river that is closed by law to further appropriation of water?
Ecology says they will consider such water right applications if they include elements of mitigation. They point to some vague wording in state law to support this contention, yet they have no written policy, no rules, no guidelines, in general, no clear pathway to accomplish this whatsoever. While the Tribe is not convinced that the State has any water to allow Lacey to use, we are equally perplexed about what state law, if any, provides them the vehicle to pursue this course.
When Lacey acts blithely to take something that is not theirs, the Tribe takes offense. In this case, we had offered to sit down and listen to their ideas, however, we have made no commitment to negotiate an outcome with them. They have violated the respect that is involved in dealing with this issue, and as a result, we have cancelled further meetings with them until we reassess the situation.
Coming Soon: How does one mitigate for drying up a stream?