Water-protection rule update a step closer

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WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla County commissioners Monday moved a step closer to updating protections for drinking water sources in unincorporated areas.

After taking additional comment, commissioners closed a public hearing on the proposed amendments to county codes for Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas. The hearing had been continued from last week.

After discussion with Bill Stalzer, the county’s consultant on the issue, commissioners Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson directed staff to prepare an ordinance to incorporate the changes into the county codes. The ordinance is scheduled for adoption next week. The third commissioner on the board, Greg Tompkins, was absent.

The update is the latest chapter in a five-year effort by the county to update its Critical Areas Ordinances. A challenge by two citizens’ groups has resulted in the county being ordered to rework portions relating to protection of aquifers which are a source for drinking water.

The county has until next Monday to submit its amended regulations to the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, which ruled in the case brought by the citizens’ groups Citizens for Good Governance and Futurewise.

During Monday’s discussion, Stalzer told commissioners one change to the proposed ordinances were revisions to the definition for “moderate vulnerability” to contamination for Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas. This was to eliminate confusion and clarify where areas designated as being “moderate vulnerability” are indicated on maps of the county’s aquifer areas.

Another change concerned “contaminant loading potential” based on potential land uses, Stalzer said.

One area of contention during the debate over critical aquifers has been designation of the shallow aquifer under Walla Walla Regional Airport as being at moderate vulnerability as opposed to highly vulnerable. Duncan Greene, an attorney for the Port of Walla Walla, which operates the airport and its surrounding business park, told commissioners the Port strongly supports the county consultant’s opinion that the area should be designated for moderate vulnerability.

“There is no science to support designation of the airport (property) as highly vulnerable,” Greene said.

After the close of the hearing, both Johnson and Dozier said they have read and reviewed the materials and comments on the issue and felt, based on the information they have received from consultants, the amended ordinances will protect drinking water sources.

“I believe every move that the county is making is to protect these resources,” Dozier said.

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