Water is a key issue in the growing buy-local movement

When it comes to the food we eat, the buy-local movement is slowly catching on across the country.

<i>Sharon Howard keeps her 15 pigs cool by filling a hole with water. </i><small>Kitsap Sun photo</small>
Sharon Howard keeps her 15 pigs cool by filling a hole with water. Kitsap Sun photo

Among the various benefits of locally grown food is reducing the transportation of produce — resulting in less oil consumption, lower emissions of pollution and greenhouse gases, and even large-scale economic benefits, such as the balance of trade.

As demand for local food increases, local farmers are trying to put fallow lands back into production. So what is standing in their way? For many eager farmers, the answer is WATER RIGHTS.

Kitsap Sun reporter Chris Henry explores the experience of one local family in today’s Kitsap Sun. Sharon and Jay Howard own 14 acres at their Possum Run Farm that they want to put into production. But they need water during the dry periods, whether they grow produce or raise livestock.

Unless you have enough money to pay for complicated hydrologic studies — and we’re talking up to $100,000 — it is virtually impossible to get the Department of Ecology to approve the use of a new well for commercial use anywhere on the Kitsap Peninsula.

And things just got worse, thanks to the poor economy. To balance the state budget, the Washington Legislature recently hacked 25 percent out of the Department of Ecology’s Water Resources Program. (Review my May 27 story in the Kitsap Sun.) If the economy improves, officials hope to restore the program in two years.

But let’s be clear about the problem. There’s almost no hope that management of limited water supplies will improve without a great deal of government attention. You could double the size of the program, but without new policies, procedures, laws, or ultimately court battles, serious progress won’t happen in many areas of our state.

In Western Washington, Ecology is forced to focus on solving water resource problems in a few limited areas, such as the Dungeness watershed where supplies are in a critical state and everybody knows it. But nobody has proposed a way through the minefield of water resource issues on the Kitsap Peninsula — not since a local watershed-planning process came to an abrupt end with a veto from Nisqually Tribe.

To make matters worse, the latest state budget eliminates money for planning, except for those areas with an approved watershed-management plan.

And so the Howards and other would-be farmers must look for a way to possibly purchase and transfer water allocations from someone else. I guess we’ll see how that works out.

Meanwhile, for information about the buy-local movement, check out the Web site “Buy Local Food in Kitsap,” sponsored by the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance. Statewide, one place to look is the Washington State Farmers Market Association.

5 thoughts on “Water is a key issue in the growing buy-local movement

  1. Perhaps it would be cheaper to get a permit for a cistern storage system? We get plenty of water during the Winter and Spring if it could only be stored appropriately. I don’t know how much water they would need, but if the well permit alone is a hundred grand that would pay for a big underground cistern.

  2. This is primarily a problem of those lucky enough to own more than five acres. The exemption on a private well allows 5,000 gallons a day, or enough for a 2 1/2 acre farm. In South Kitsap, 2 1/2 acre parcels are most prevalent.

  3. Water availability is not dependent upon “new policies, procedures, laws, or ultimately court battles”. It is a limited resource i.e. there is only so much of it. If you mean mandating more efficient use of water, prioritization of its use (outlaw lawns) etc then the same amount of water can be used for different purposes that have a greater benefit. The use of rainwater catchments is not an answer in and of itself. It will interupt the water cycle and ultimately reduce the amount of water available to a prior user.

  4. Yes storage is a potential and partial solution. So is wise use of irrigation, e.g., drip and other focused and less intensive uses of water.

    But the real issue is that there is already not enough water to go around. Something will have to give, including the 5k/day exemption.

    If we’re smart (KitCo Commishes) we should be aggressively limiting new housing in the hinterlands in favor of farms and microagriculture.

    Every new house with a well diminishes an already over-obligated supply.

  5. Vern,

    Much of what you say is valid, but I’m wondering about your statement, “Every new house with a well diminishes an already over-obligated supply.”

    Are you suggesting that the groundwater supply on the Kitsap Peninsula has been over-allocated, or are you thinking of some specific areas? From the studies I recall, there are supplies of unused groundwater; they’re just not always in the right places.

    Or is your greater concern with the random nature of exempt wells, which pose an increased risk for reduced streamflows?

    It’s a balancing act. The future of the Kitsap Peninsula depends on the future of rainfall and whether water is allowed to seep into the ground. It’s a different story for the surrounding areas, where a declining snowpack has a direct impact on available supplies.

    This is a topic that probably deserves some input from the experts.

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