Tag Archives: Groundwater

Kitsap groundwater model points to promising future

Overall, the Kitsap Peninsula is expected to have enough water for people and fish for many years into the future, as long as the water is managed well, according to a groundwater model developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The model offers reassuring findings for residents of the Kitsap Peninsula. It is also encouraging to see local water, sewer and public works officials working together to plan for infiltrating stormwater along with recycling wastewater for irrigation. Those efforts will not only protect the peninsula’s water resources but will save money for water customers.

Drilling for water on the Kitsap Peninsula Kitsap Sun file photo
Drilling for water on the Kitsap Peninsula
Kitsap Sun file photo

Lonna Frans of the U.S. Geological Survey met this week with members of WaterPAK — the Water Purveyors of Association of Kitsap — to discuss the conclusions of a five-year, $1.4 million study of water resources across the Kitsap Peninsula. Lonna said a final written report should be available in about a month. (See website Kitsap GW model.)

The most impressive part of the groundwater model is the mapping of geology across the entire peninsula, based on more than 2,100 well-driller logs that describe the type of soil at various depths. Putting that information together provides a three-dimensional picture of the underground structure, including sand and gravel deposits, which contain water, along with layers of clay and compressed soils, which slow down the water movement.

By monitoring water levels in 66 wells over time and accounting for rainfall and groundwater withdrawals, the computer model provides a dynamic picture of what happens under various conditions. The model can be used to predict what will happen to Kitsap’s aquifers under various rainfall scenarios, including long periods of drought.

Map

Key

The model also can predict what will happen to streamflows under various rainfall scenarios. The Kitsap Peninsula has no mountain snowpack to supply the streams with water during dry summer months, so the water must come from slow-moving underground supplies.

Now that the model is complete, it can be run for almost any pattern of rainfall or drought that one wishes to dream up. For example, running the model with average rainfall and no pumping at all (close to a predevelopment condition) would bring the average groundwater level up about 25 feet — although groundwater levels in some places would be raised more than in other places.

Streamsflows under the no-pumping scenario would be an average of about 2 percent higher — although this would be difficult to measure with current instruments. Nobody would really notice the difference.

If pumping across the peninsula were increased by 15 percent, there would not be much difference in aquifers near the surface and only a two- or three-foot drop in aquifers around sea level. Streamflows would go down by a fraction of a percent but not enough to notice.

Decreasing groundwater recharge by 15 percent, such as paving over the landscape with new roads, houses and parking lots, would have a greater effect on streamflows.

Again, not all areas on the peninsula will see the same effects. The model can be used to zero in on specific streams and their watersheds — although the smaller the area of study, the less accurate the prediction is likely to be.

Bob Hunter, manager of Kitsap Public Utility District, said the model can be used to predict the effects that new wells would have on streamflows as the population grows. The model could advise managers whether it would be advisable to pump certain wells at certain times of the year and hold back at other times.

Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city of Bremerton, said the model can also be used to make sure aquifer-recharge areas are protected and that industrial facilities that store large quantities of chemicals are not located where a spill could contaminate a major underground water supply.

Morgan Johnson, general manager of Silverdale Water District, said he would like to use the model to predict what will happen when highly treated effluent from the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant is used to irrigate ball fields and other areas in Central Kitsap. Efforts between the water districts and Kitsap County might lead to greater infiltration of water and greater groundwater supplies to be pumped from existing wells throughout Central Kitsap.

The model was built on background information, which can be found in the report “Hydrogeologic Framework, Groundwater Movement, and Water Budget of the Kitsap Peninsula” (PDF 49.8 mb).

The USGS provided half the costs for the study. The other half was shared among Kitsap PUD; Silverdale Water District; West Sound Utility District; North Perry Water District; Manchester Water District; the cities of Bremerton, Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Gig Harbor; Washington Water, a private utility; and the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

In September of 2014, I wrote about water resources for the series we called “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The story was called “Making sure there is enough water to go around.”

Rainfall drops below average, but deep wells should be fine this year

Rainfall in most of Kitsap County was fairly normal or slightly above average until April, when the spring rains basically stopped. The lack of rain has led to extreme conditions, as anyone can see by looking at the dry vegetation across Western Washington.

Silverdale

The total rainfall has now fallen below normal in most areas of Kitsap County, as shown by the maps on this page. That below-average condition is unlikely to change without some uncharacteristic rainstorms between now and the end of the “water year” on Oct. 1.

The Kitsap Peninsula, like islands throughout Puget Sound, does not rely on snowpack for its water supplies, so a shortage of drinking water is unlikely. The one exception might be residents who rely on private shallow wells, some of which could start to dry up by the end of summer, according to Bob Hunter, manager of Kitsap Public Utility District.

Deeper aquifers used by most major water systems on the peninsula are not affected by a single year’s weather. It takes time for the water to trickle down to the deeper layers, where groundwater levels reflect the pattern of rainfall occurring over several years.

Holly

The soils and topography vary so greatly from one place to another that nobody can say how soon shallow wells will be affected. Some wells depend on springs or surface infiltration, while others tap into aquifers with adequate supply. The rate of withdrawal, including the number of homes in a given area, can have an effect on water supply.

Although the deeper aquifers are not likely to be affected this year, what if we are at the beginning of a dry period that lasts three years or more? I would hate to look back on my current water usage and regret not saving water when I had the chance. To a varying extent, conserving water can protect our water supplies and help the overall ecosystem.

In addition to affecting aquifers, the lack of rain has reduced streamflows in creeks and rivers to below-normal rates throughout the county. The resulting low flows could affect coho salmon, which spend a year in freshwater. The fall salmon migration will be mostly affected by whether rains show up to saturate the soils and raise stream levels in September and October.

Hansville

Bob Hunter says the per-capita use of water has been dropping, but he’s not sure how much of the change is a result of personal choices and how much is a result of new kitchen and bathroom fixtures required by plumbing codes. Low-flush toilets and low-flow faucets can really make a difference, he said.

People use large amounts of water on their lawns, so one long-term effort is to reduce the amount of grass and thirsty vegetation that homeowners maintain while improving the soil to increasing its water-holding capacity.

“This year, people are irrigating a lot earlier than they were in the past,” Bob told me. “That has to have an impact, especially if the summer stays dry the whole way.”

The key to protecting future water supplies on the Kitsap Peninsula is for everyone to change their habitats over time by finding ways to use less water. If people understand the trickle-down theory of aquifers, they might be less inclined to take our water for granted.

For more information, see the Kitsap PUD’s webpage on “Groundwater and Aquifers,” including an informative piece from the Environmental Protection Agency called “Build Your Own Aquifer.” The PUD also offers a list of “Frequently Asked Questions.” For details about lawns, see King County’s “Natural Lawn Care.”

Streams in Kitsap County have dropped significantly in their flows (cubic feet per second). ALL GRAPHICS FROM KITSAP PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT
Streams in Kitsap County have dropped significantly in their flows (cubic feet per second).
ALL GRAPHICS FROM KITSAP PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT

Rainfall and aquifers keep drought away from the Kitsap Peninsula

UPDATE: April 24, 2015
Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says in his blog that it is too early to be predicting severe drought in Western Washington this summer because of possible late-spring rains:

“I believe the media and some local politicians have gotten a bit too worried about our ‘drought.’ We have NOT had a precipitation drought at all….we are in a snow drought due to warm temperatures. The situation is unique and I suspect we will weather this summer far better than expected.”

—–

The word seems to be getting around about the record-low snowpack in the mountains, which could create a shortage of drinking water and even lead to problems for salmon swimming upstream. Read about Gov. Jay Inslee’s expanded drought emergency, issued today, as well as the last update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CK

Kitsap Peninsula and the islands of Puget Sound are in their own worlds, fairly insulated from what is happening in the higher elevations. In these lower elevations, the key to water supplies is rainfall, not snow, and the outlook for the year is normal so far.

As you can see from the charts on this page (click to enlarge), this year’s rainfall has been tracking closely the long-term average. If the rains are light and steady, much of the water will soak into the ground and recharge the aquifers where most area residents get their water. The aquifer levels tend to rise and fall over multiple years, depending on the rainfall.

Hansville

Casad Dam on the Union River, which supplies a majority of Bremerton’s water, filled in January, well ahead of schedule, said Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city. The dam is scheduled for a normal drawdown, and Kathleen said she does not expect any water shortage.

“We filled the reservoir fairly early this year,” she said. “We are looking pretty good for the summer.”

Holly

October, the first month of the water year, was unusually wet, Kathleen said. December precipitation also was high. The other months were fairly normal for precipitation.

Precipitation in the Puget Sound region is expected to be below average for June, July and August, according to models by the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Interestingly, large portions of the Central and Southwest U.S., Alaska and Florida can expect above-average precipitation. See U.S. map.

precip

Streams on the Kitsap Peninsula are fed by surface water flows and shallow aquifers. At the moment, most of the streamflows are near their historical average. That’s not the case for the larger rivers in the Northwest, which rush out of the mountains. Most are well below their normal flows, as shown by the map with the dots.

Low streamflows usually mean higher temperatures and stress for salmon. Low flows also can affect fish passage in some stretches of the rivers while also reducing spawning areas.

Streamflows

While things look fairly good on the Kitsap Peninsula now, things can change quickly. We have different vulnerabilities than elsewhere. Climate-change models predict that rains will grow more intense in the future without changing annual precipitation very much. That means more of the water will run off the land and less will soak in, potentially reducing aquifer levels over time. Managing those underground water supplies will become more and more critical.

Can we escape water fights in Puget Sound?

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

This quote kept running through my mind as I completed the eighth part of our series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The latest installment, published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, is about water resources.

Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall
Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

It seems from my interviews that we should have enough water in the Puget Sound region to serve the needs of people while maintaining streamflows for fish and other aquatic organisms. It’s all about managing the resource, as I describe in the story.

What isn’t so clear to me is what we need to do about water rights, and this is where the real hangup can come in. People, governments and developers are allowed to reserve vast amounts of water for various uses, then they simply need to “use it or lose it.” That does not encourage conservation.

Water rights are considered a property right. Even if the Legislature had a plan for clearing up all the conflicts, it would not be easy. So far, the courts have been fairly strong in upholding individual water rights, even when the needs of society call for a new direction.

We’ve all encountered belligerent people who speak out loudly about their property rights. They’ll say, “This is my property, and I’ll be damned if I will have the government telling me what I can and cannot do with my property.”

Well, I’m sorry. But that battle is over. Zoning laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the use of property to protect the rights of the neighbors and the entire community.

But water rights are fairly entrenched and inflexible. It may be in the best interest of a community if a farmer could find ways to grow his crops with less water and share the surplus with a growing population. But is it fair to expect the farmer to give away his water rights for free, or should he be paid a sizable amount of money to set free the water he is holding hostage? Maybe he will need that water in the future, given the uncertainties of climate change.

And then there is the groundwater-permit exemptions for single family homes, allowing withdrawal of up to 5,000 gallons per day of water from a well — even though most families use only a few hundred gallons a day. In addition, the courts have ruled that farmers may use an unlimited amount of groundwater for watering livestock. All these water rights are recorded on the books, competing with other water rights — including instream flows to protect water in the streams for fish and other aquatic creatures.

Such water rights can be issued until there is no water left to appropriate or until there is a real water shortage and people generally agree that an adjudication is necessary. That’s when the courts begin to sort out who is using what water and for how long, trying to resolve the tangled claims and conflicts. While it may seem like the most reasonable solution, the adjudication process involves historical evidence and legal rulings that never seem to end. Such an adjudication has been underway in the Yakima basin for 40 years, according to the Department of Ecology website.

While water supplies in the Puget Sound region seem to be generally adequate for years to come, it is unlikely that people and governments will find a way to share this precious resource, setting the stage for ongoing legal battles.

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

While this quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, there is no evidence he ever said it. See the blog entry by Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers. Trying to prove that Twain never said it, however, is virtually impossible. It reminds me of the effort it may take to prove that one of our ancestors put his water rights to “beneficial use,” thus guaranteeing a quantity of water for all time.

Click on image to download the complete graphic
Click on image to download the complete graphic (PDF 2.8 mb).

Amusing Monday: Crack appears in Mexican desert

For this week, let’s call it “Amazing Monday.” When I first saw this video, I thought it was a fake animation for a science fiction film. But it turns out that it could be the answer to a troubling riddle: What is dryer than a desert?

The crack might also be the result of erosion from either an underground or surface channel following an unusually heavy rain. Despite the attention in Mexican and U.S. news outlets, I have been unable to find a good explanation.

The crack is said to be about three-fourths mile long and up to 25 feet deep. Some nice close-in photos were posted on the website of Excelsior, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. They show people standing next to the giant fissure. (When watching the video, it’s worth blowing it up to full screen.)

In a Washington Post story last week, reporter Joshua Partlow quoted a geologist at the University of Sonora as saying the crack was probably caused by pumping groundwater for irrigation:

“The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this ‘topographic accident’ emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

“‘This is no cause for alarm,’ Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. ‘These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.’”

I think the geologist’s comments were meant to quell fear and speculation that started running wild when the crack first opened. While it may not be cause for alarm, I can’t believe that a crack this size — which has cut off more than one roadway — can be considered a good thing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating, and I’d like to learn more about it.

Kitsap’s future involves sharing water resources

Sharing water resources over a wide region is an idea that goes hand-in-hand with the Growth Management Act’s strategy of concentrating population in urban areas while protecting rural areas.

Of course, the first level of action is water conservation. But the ability to take water from one aquifer with an adequate water supply while protecting an overtaxed aquifer somewhere else makes a lot of sense.

That’s the idea behind building new pipelines to connect numerous water systems across a good portion of Kitsap County, including Silverdale. I described the latest steps in this plan in a story published in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

Rainfall

Thirty years ago — before the Growth Management Act was passed — I recall talking to folks at the Kitsap Public Utility District, who declared that they were not in the land-use business and had no intention of getting involved in land-use battles. It was the job of the Kitsap County commissioners to decide where to put the growth, they said. The PUD staff and commissioners believed their role was to provide water for the growing population, wherever it goes. Check out this Kitsap Sun story from Feb. 25, 2001.

The state’s Municipal Water Law of 2003 clarified that the KPUD could deliver water from one place to another throughout its service area — which is all of Kitsap County. That allows water to be brought to developed areas in North Kitsap, where annual rainfall is half of what we see in the forested areas of Southwest Kitsap, where the Seabeck aquifer is located. (See annual precipitation map on this page.)

Many environmentalists have objected to certain portions of the Municipal Water Law, especially sections that included developers as municipal water suppliers — a move they say opens the door for abuse by financial interests.

One of the big concerns in water management is that pumping too much from an aquifer — especially a shallow aquifer — could disrupt the subsurface flows and springs that maintain stream levels in the summer and early fall. Adequate streamflows are needed for many species, not the least of which are salmon.

With adequate monitoring, as needed for planning, experts can track groundwater levels and streamflows to avoid such problems. Pipelines allow aquifers to be “rested” when needed. And elected PUD commissioners can be held accountable for their decisions regarding the regional management of water.

Future water supplies and the right to use the water constitute one of the most complicated issues in environmental law. A 2003 paper by the Washington Department of Ecology, called “Mitigation Measures Used in Water Rights Permitting” outlines some of the methods being used to protect natural systems and competing water rights. Mitigation for use of the Seabeck aquifer, which is an important water supply in Kitsap County, is described briefly on pages 19 and 20.

Washington water rights: Will the logjam be broken?

When it comes to water rights in Washington state, it seems to me that the Legislature is trying to sell survival suits on a sinking ship.

Because of budget problems, the Legislature last year slashed 25 percent of the Department of Ecology’s staff in the program that studies water resources and issues water rights. As you can see from Ecology’s map at right (click to enlarge), more than 7,000 water rights are pending, and the backlog is growing.

The latest move is to expedite applications where groups of people are willing to pay for studies to determine if water is available. Reporter Chris Henry wrote about the approved Senate Bill 6267 in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The new law allows a group of water-rights applicants to get together and pay for the studies needed to process water rights for a given area. Anyone not willing to contribute to the study must wait in line for Ecology to get around to processing their water rights. So the new law works well for water utilities, which have enough money to pay for the studies. It may or may not work well for farmers and others who have limited dollars, depending on their share of the costs.
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Kitsap study could quantify water supplies

Last week, I wrote about a meeting between water officials on the Kitsap Peninsula and hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS folks were floating the idea of studying the geology and available water supplies across the entire Kitsap Peninsula. (See story in Thursday’s Kitsap Sun.)

Surface waters of Kitsap.

I’ve covered water resources for years, and one of the big questions in the context of growth and development has always been: “Will the area have enough water to support growth.”

It’s a question I’ve asked local water managers since I arrived here in 1977. Their answer is generally something like this: “We should have enough water far into the future if we manage it carefully.” My latest story, published in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 3, described a relatively low-water year ending in October.

Most of Kitsap County’s water comes from wells. Consequently, managing water carefully means conserving what we’ve got, allowing our rains to soak into the ground and, in some contexts, being able to move water from areas of lesser supply to areas of greater supply. The map of surface waters at right can be found on the Kitsap County Web site.

Water is one of the big environmental issues of our time, and it will grow more important as long as the population continues to grow. Most people in the water business would like to know more about underground water supplies, so a study of the peninsula’s water resources would be valuable. Experts also realize that studies of this kind are only as good as the data that go in. That involves using measurements from hundreds of wells and well logs (soil layers) across the peninsula. You may want to check out similar studies conducted by USGS.

This topic also appears to be interesting to Kitsap Sun readers, because the story I wrote last week was rated the most popular on the Web site for two days running.

As with many environmental stories, the first comments to be posted seemed skeptical of the whole idea that caused me to write the story:

Crownvic (the first comment): “This is another one of these greeny try-to-scare-the-hell-out-of-you articles. First of all, almost all water wells pump from an aquifer 100 feet plus deep and have absolutely no effect on surface waters due to the impervious layers top and bottom…”
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