Skagit County backs off asking DOE for river water rule change

Skagit Valley Herald

Skagit Valley, Washington - 8/13/02 - The Skagit County Commissioners Monday decided not to ask the state to change a rule that allocates water out of the Skagit River - at least, not yet.

The county instead will begin negotiating with the other local entities that helped craft the rule - the Skagit Public Utility District, Anacortes and the local tribes. Each of those entities receives a Skagit River water allocation.

But there is no amount of water reserved for rural use in Skagit County. That means undeveloped land outside the service area of a big water system can't be developed because there is no reliable water source.

The commissioners had planned to file a petition with the state Department of Ecology.

But in a letter to the commissioners last week, Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons promised to review any petition filed by the county within 30 days after it is filed, rather than the customary 60 days.

That gives the county leeway to negotiate with the other entities for 30 days, then file the petition and still have the process completed within 60 days, said Chal Martin, director of the county's Public Works Department.

The end date of the ecology department's process is important. If the county's water allocation request isn't granted, it has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit.

The rule was established in 2001 after four years of negotiation. The rule is designed to keep enough water in the Skagit River for fish passage, while still allowing holders of current water rights to draw from the river.

The river is considered to have a water right of its own dated April 2001.

Since water rights are allocated by date, the holder of any water right established after April 2001 would not be able to draw water when the river is below a certain level. That level depends on the time of year.

The rule applies to wells in the Skagit River Basin, because they draw from ground water that would otherwise flow to the Skagit River.

But the rule also should consider rural residents return about 90 percent of used water to the ground through their septic systems, said Joe Mentor, a lawyer hired by the county to handle the appeal to the state. But the state doesn't recognize that when it writes its rules, he said.

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