Water program budget slashed despite alarming groundwater report

One city councilman says protecting the island’s water supply “has got to be our number one priority.”

Island residents appear to agree, choosing groundwater as the top community concern in a survey last year.

And now hydrologists have confirmed in a recent study what many islanders have feared: Well levels are dropping, including ones tapped into the island’s largest and most important aquifers.

So why has the city cut the water resource program by more than half?

Read my story here or below…

Just as a city-commissioned study hinted that the island may have a dwindling water supply, city funding to track the problem was cut in half.

“Now when we need more data, we have less means to get it,” city water resources specialist Jalyn Cummings said shortly after a study by Aspect Consulting found that groundwater levels have declined in some areas of the island.

The study recommended that the city take a more in-depth look at water use on the island, which is supplied solely by rain-fed aquifers. Limited in scope, the study took a cursory glance at the island’s groundwater trends. A bigger-picture analysis would require a broad-based exploration of usage over time, seasonal trends and water levels at hundreds of public and private wells.

The results, Aspect warned, could necessitate voluntary water conservation or policies that limit well drilling and water usage.

“The first step when you see (groundwater) declines like these is to stay the course and continue to collect data,” Cummings said. “But this budget reduction is a substantial hit to our program.”

The water program’s operating budget fell from $332,400 in 2008 to $145,000 this year, according to city finance staff. The program’s budget is slated to shrink to $85,000 in 2010.

Besides cutting back on groundwater monitoring, the city will reduce work on surveying water quality and site-based pollution testing, Cummings said.

A side project aimed at developing models for managing groundwater use is still under way and on schedule thanks to financial backing and staff support from the United States Geological Survey.

Ensuring an adequate water supply ranked as the number one priority in an islandwide survey last year and has been a top issue in recent political campaigns. Despite widespread public interest, the island has lacked a comprehensive analysis of whether its finite water supply can meet increasing demand.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said the water resources program was reduced as part of citywide cutbacks.

“In the scientific world, some always want to do more study,” she said. “They want a top-notch study, but we don’t have the money to do a top-notch study.”

Kordonowy said she had initially put slightly more money in this year’s water resources budget than in last years. But a City Council request that she trim revenue estimates by more than $2 million forced her to cut into the water program and other services.

Vigilance over the island’s water supply was a core part of Kordonowy’s and several council members’ campaign platforms.

“It has got to be our number one priority,” Councilman Bill Knobloch said this week. “I can’t say it more seriously than that.”

The island’s water supply is solely dependent on the amount of rain that soaks into the ground and fills layers of underground aquifers. From there, it’s pumped from wells to fill bathtubs, water lawns and serve a multitude of uses for a growing population.

“Groundwater is the single most important factor that decides how much growth the island can accommodate,” Knobloch said, adding that additional study of the island’s groundwater is key to planning for the island’s future.

“Once we get the answer of how our aquifers are recharging, then the rest follows in terms of the growth we bring here,” he said. “It’s so god damn basic.”

Councilwoman Kim Brackett also promised a strong focus on groundwater issues during her campaign. She expressed surprise this week that the water resources program was at half its 2008 level.

“We were told we were funding it at a level that was acceptable,” she said.

While the council approved the 2009 budget, Brackett said the city administration did not provide adequate information about cuts to the water program and never presented the results of the groundwater study, which Aspect delivered to the city in a draft form in late November and a final version last month.

Although he’s unsure where the money will come from, Knobloch has vowed to restore funding for expanded groundwater study.

“What ever it takes,” he said. “I’m going to fight tooth and nail.”

4 thoughts on “Water program budget slashed despite alarming groundwater report

  1. “They want a top-notch study, but we don’t have the money to do a top-notch study.”

    Well if we can’t get the right information, it’s only PRUDENT to cut WAY back on development and err on the side of caution. It’s WAY past time to WAKE UP!

  2. I agree with Ramone completely, My apologies for the length of my comment but the taxpayer need to get a complete picture of how their dollars are being spent.

    I had a nice calm discussion with the mayor late this afternoon and explained to her my concerns with the lack of response on a rebuttal article by the city. Now that the Sun is out today with a second article titled (Water Supply Worries Worsen) it may be too late to correct the perception of some people. People will remember the first article (Islands Water Supply Getting Scarcer) and the reference to the IUC Well 1 and its decline from 40 feet to 25 feet in 20 years and that is what they will remember and build on.

    Just for some of you that are unaware of our production wells here is some information for you.

    Our Well 1 has only been used as a monitoring well since 1999, it is not as reported in the Aspect report and the newspaper a high production high out put well.

    Neither Well 1 (it serves no one) nor Island Utility serves most of the Eagledale area. IUC would love to serve Eagledale as it is an area where the shallow wells are in trouble. That is a fact commonly known to the state and county health departments. Over 95 percent of our service now exists to the South of Eagledale and our wells are located ¼ mile East of Blakely Ave not in Eagledale.

    Our current wells are drilled to 1015 feet deep with a static level of 111 feet below the surface of the ground. If you take a fifteen foot drop out of them then we would be at 126 feet. This leaves 889 feet of water in the casing with our pumps set at 550 feet deep. It is hardly a picture of alarm. Well 1 is drilled to 960 feet deep.

    IUC furnishes well soundings and production data to the PUD and have been since before I took over management in 1997 as a public service and in recognition of our need to be a part of the whole picture. IUC could have abandoned well 1 in 1999 and stopped the flow of data but we made the choice to continue the stream of data. We understand it is important to know what the trends are in our water supply. A city program with 2 years of data has not shown us anything we have not already been tracking.

    Even though our water level appears to be trending downward, no one from the city or Aspect Consulting contacted us to get production data or to confirm their information. If they had they would have found a company that is committed to diligently protecting our water supply and protecting its customers. Instead what we got for our commitment to providing this important data is a black eye and false information in print. In fact even though IUC is growing and our water production has substantially increased the rate of decline is stabilizing.

    Much of this unfortunate waste of time and public fiasco could have been avoided if the parties involved in the gathering of information and the writing of the report had had the professional courtesy to come to us and ask us for confirmation of what they thought were facts. The city’s consultant should also never have spoken to a reporter about a report paid for and sponsored by the city without the express permission of the city.

    IUC has learned a lot in our dealings with the city recently first by stepping up and wasting several days of our time by trying to help out public works with the Rockaway Beach / Internment Memorial Park project, that was a fiasco that even left health shaking their heads over the city’s decisions and then one month later in the way the city turned its back on us when we were publicly embarrassed in the paper with information gleaned from an incomplete and inaccurate report sponsored by the city.

    By the way, IUC was just issued our updated water permits from the Washington State Department of Ecology without new conditions or restrictions. I trust that they have the expertise over there to help protect our water resources after all they are only entrusted with the entire states water resource.

    Respectfully

    Scott Shelton

    Owner

    Island Utility Company

  3. “. . .water use on the island, which is supplied solely by rain-fed aquifers . . .”

    The Suns need to do a little more work on your reporting before including misleading statements such as this. The chicken-little-we-have-no-water-crowd would like you to believe that the only water we have is that which falls from the sky onto our little island, but it simply is not true.

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