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Tribal & Wash. State Pact Allows Some in Carpenter-Fisher Sub-Basin to Use Water

Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.

By Rachel Lerman | Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013 8:00 am

Seven landowners in the Skagit River’s Carpenter-Fisher sub-basin have reached a settlement with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the state Department of Ecology that will allow them to get water to their properties.

Landowners in the Sun Peak Estates subdivision, located about one mile south of the Skagit County line and east of Interstate 5, will each be able to use 350 gallons of water per day for indoor use, primarily because their wells reach deep enough to tap into an aquifer that partly feeds the Stillaguamish River.

The landowners will have to meter their wells and report usage monthly to Ecology for two years. Two landowners will need to deepen their wells.

This settlement only applies to a small percentage of the basin. There are 520 potentially buildable lots in the basin in Skagit County, according to a county buildable lot analysis from 2007. Most of that property will be unable to get water.

The Sun Peak Estates landowners received the go-ahead from Ecology on a mitigation plan in May. Ecology determined their wells would benefit the basin if dug deep enough because the landowners are close to the boundary of the Stillaguamish River basin and Skagit River basin. Much of their water would otherwise flow into the Stillaguamish basin, and as they use well water, water sent through the septic system would flow back into the Carpenter-Fisher sub-basin, therefore benefiting salmon.

The Swinomish tribe appealed Ecology’s ruling in June, saying it would actually harm salmon. Before the ruling, it challenged the science of the report upon which the ruling was based. A letter in May from Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said the science goes against a 2010 groundwater model by the U.S. Geological survey of groundwater in the lower Skagit River basin.

The three parties entered into settlement agreements. The settlement reached does not include water for outdoor water use. Landowners can collect water off their roofs and store it for outdoor use, said Jacque Klug, water resources manager for Ecology.

“While we are pleased that a settlement was reached, the outcome is neither desirable nor fair for any tax-paying citizen,” landowner Zach Barborinas wrote in an email Wednesday. “Our small neighborhood spent over $75,000 in expert and legal fees theoretically proving we have salmon-friendly wells only to have our water use severely restricted.”

No outdoor watering is the biggest issue with the settlement, he said. Barborinas said he is disgusted with the situation and will sell his property.

After Ecology issues the mitigation permits for Sun Peak Estates owners, the landowners have agreed to dismiss their appeal of the 2011 basin closure.

Ecology will continue to scope out areas where tactics such as this one could work, Klug said, noting it may be possible near coastal areas. Ecology is searching for mitigation plans to get water access to rural lots in Skagit County, she said.

— Reporter Rachel Lerman: 360-416-2145, rlerman@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Rachel_SVH, facebook.com/RachelReports

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