Kittitas County investigating Ecology Department

Posted 7/19/2011

The Columbian

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) -- Kittitas County is investigating whether the Washington state Department of Ecology violated the law as the agency was working to impose groundwater well restrictions there in 2009.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Candace Hooper told the Ellensburg Daily-Record on Monday that she is reviewing an investigation by the county Sheriff's Office to decide if criminal charges should be filed.

The investigation centers on public statements made by Ecology Department officials as the agency sought to establish rules restricting new groundwater wells in upper Kittitas County.

Those rules were made permanent in December.

Ecology spokesman David Workman says the agency complied with all civil and criminal laws in developing the rules.


Information from: Daily Record,



Decision pending on Kittitas County's DOE probe

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By MIKE JOHNSTON senior writer
Daily Record News

ELLENSBURG, WA— The Kittitas County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing a criminal investigation into actions taken by state Department of Ecology officials when new groundwater well restrictions were implemented in Upper Kittitas County in 2009.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Candace Hooper said she was assigned on Monday to review the county Sheriff’s Office investigation information and make a decision on whether to file criminal charges.

“I’ve just begun to study the information,” Hooper said. “There may be a need for more information to consider before a decision can be made.”

Prosecutor Greg Zempel on Monday declined to comment on what specific criminal charges might be filed.

“It’s too early to depict publicly what the exact allegation is and whether charges will be actually filed,” Zempel said. “We may need more investigation before that decision can be made. There can be a decision to charge, and there could be a decision to not file charges.”

DOE statements

Zempel said the investigation surrounds public statements made and written by state Department of Ecology officials as the agency sought to establish rules that placed restrictions on the drilling and use of new groundwater wells in Upper Kittitas County.

Temporary rules were approved July 16, 2009, by then DOE Director Jay Manning. The rules were made permanent in December 2010.

Zempel said one of his office’s deputy civil prosecutors filed the original complaint alleging a possible criminal act in connection with DOE employee statements.

That filing began an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, Zempel said, which involved gathering background information, state documents, research and interviews.

County Commissioner Alan Crankovich last week said he was interviewed by an investigating deputy sheriff. The line of questioning, he said, seemed to indicate concerns that a DOE employee may have overstepped legal authority and that there may have been intimidation toward local governments.

Crankovich and Commissioner Paul Jewell, who also was interviewed, stressed the complaint did not originate from the commissioners’ office.

A DOE spokesman said three DOE employees have been interviewed by the investigating deputy, and the agency is cooperating fully with the Sheriff’s Office in the matter.

David Workman, the director of DOE communications in Olympia, said in a statement last week that the DOE complied with all laws, both civil and criminal, in developing the rule.

A state deputy attorney general said state agencies will not interfere with the criminal investigation.

Aqua Permanente

A petition to the DOE in September 2007 from the citizen advocacy group Aqua Permanente and the statewide Center for Environmental Law and Policy called for a moratorium on all new wells throughout Kittitas County. After years of talks on proposals, the state placed emergency restrictions on wells only in Upper County.

Melissa Bates of Cle Elum, a spokeswoman for Aqua Permanente, said in response to the current investigation that the DOE has “been far too lenient for far, far too long” with Kittitas County in regard to management of groundwater.

“Ecology is clearly mandated to protect our water resource. The real abuse of power came when Kittitas County tried everything they could to keep the loopholes in place for the benefit of a select few,” Bates said in a statement.

County hopes for positive relations

Kittitas County Commission Chairman Paul Jewell said he has hopes that the Prosecutor’s Office investigation into actions of state Department of Ecology employees won’t jeopardize cooperative work with the DOE to adopt a program that could lead to the lifting of the Upper County well restrictions.

“So far, we’ve had indications they want to keep working with us in a positive manner,” Jewell said of DOE officials.

He said the criminal investigation “obviously has me very concerned from the point of view as a county commissioner.”

“We want to maintain what has been so far forward-moving progress with the DOE, and build upon that good relationship,” Jewell said.

Jewell said he’s received indications from DOE officials that whatever the Prosecutor’s Office does won’t affect the ongoing work with the county.

The efforts surround developing a Domestic Water Reserve Program. It involves the purchase of surface, senior water rights by the county that would be kept in stream and not used.

These water rights owned by the county, in concept, would offset the amount of water being pumped from the county’s aquifer by all types of domestic water wells, existing and new ones.

Thus, the pumping of groundwater in Kittitas County wouldn’t have a negative impact on the Yakima River Basin’s overall water supply and would not adversely affect the water available to senior water right holders.