Guemes Island Environmental Trust:

Water Warnings

Seawater intrusion into the fresh water aquifers of Guemes Island has been a longstanding problem. The State of Washington Department of Ecology considers chloride contamination of 100mg/l the "threshold of concern" and 250mg/l the maximum allowable level. In the early 1990s, chloride levels in a Potlatch Beach Water Association well reached 702 mg/l, prompting lawsuits, abandonment of two wells and the ultimate contruction of a sea water reverse osmosis system.

Superior Court Judge Allendoerfer, in his June 2007 ruling on Friends of Guemes Island v. Skagit County , chastised Skagit County for the "County's generalized blind spot relating to the ground water crisis facing Guemes Island." As Allendoerfer realized, without having seen this letter, Skagit County has done no study or planning, despite ample warnings.

Judge Allendoerfer Chastises Skagit County's Lack of Concern

4.3 There are, however, some omissions of significance in the County's environmental review which are of concern to the Court, and which are within the Court's SEPA jurisdiction.

The first such omission relates to ground water issues. It has been over ten years since any comprehensive study has been done of these issues for Guemes Island,° or since interim regulations relating to seawater intrusion were adopted by the County. Even ten years ago the studies predicted serious problems were fast approaching other San Juan islands with similar hydrogeological characteristics have identified these same problems, and two of those islands, Lopez and Orcas, have been forced to impose temporary building and occupancy moratoriums.

Skagit County must realistically foresee the same crisis for Guemes Island, and should be preparing for it. But the County has not even started a long-term watershed resource planning study for Guemes Island as provided for in RCW 90.82.

The environmental checklist for the ferry schedule project has two paragraphs relating to ground water and associated impacts. The County filled in these paragraphs by simply stating that no such impacts would result or merited consideration. This answer certainly highlights the County's generalized blind spot relating to the ground water crisis facing Guemes Island, and the lack of serious long-range planning with respect to the same.

°Hydrogeology and Quality of Ground Water on Guemes Island, Skagit County, Washington, U.S. Geological Survey, 1995.

May 27, 1994

Mr. John Thayer
Environmental Health Director
Skagit County Department of Health
County Administration Building, Room 301
700 South Second
Mount Vernon, WA 98273-3864

Dear Mr. Thayer:

This letter is to express concern held by the Water Resources and Water Quality Programs of Ecology regarding ground water withdrawal on Guemes Island. Ecology has historically been involved with water rights administration, ground water quality surveys, SEPA review and water availability questions an Guemes. Several of our staff have been working with your department and Guemes Island residents regarding sea water intrusion in island aquifers.

Several areas of the island are experiencing elevated chloride levels in ground water wells. The data indicate that some parts of the island are experiencing significant sea water intrusion.

We are particularly concerned about the north end of the island, specifically that part lying within Township 36 North. Ground water sampling data indicate consistently high chloride values often exceeding 100 mg/I.

As you may know, Ecology uses 100 mg/l as the threshold for indicating a medium risk of sea water intrusion.

Pumping from near shore wells with elevated chloride concentrations usually induces movement of saline water into the fresh water aquifer. This initially occurs in the vicinity of the pumping well intake. The cumulative effect of numerous withdrawals will eventually cause large scale saline intrusion of the coastal aquifer.

The Antidegradation Policy, as stated in the Water Quality Standards for Ground Waters, Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 173-200-030, ensures the purity of the state's ground waters and protects the natural environment. Permitting saline intrusion into fresh water aquifers could be a violation of the state's Antidegradation Policy, and can cause adverse water quality effects in existing wells.

For these reasons, we would recommend limiting new well construction on the north end of the island. We would encourage no well site approval or plat approval for developments planning on using ground water from this part of the island, unless they have a valid permit from Ecology. We would also recommend the county discourage wells completed within unconsolidated materials near the coast island-wide.

We are interested in working with the county regarding water supply and water quality issues on Guemes Island. We see the ground water resource in the area as important and vulnerable to overdraft. We look forward to evaluating the recently completed USGS study on Guemes Island ground water. When our staff resources allow, we would welcome meeting with appropriate county agencies toward a cooperative evaluation of water supply issues for the whole island.

In summary, we have concerns regarding how the County can make findings of adequacy of water in this part of Guemes Island under Section 63 of the Growth Management Act. With this in mind, we would encourage you to deny well site approvals until a site specific management program is in place. We recognize that this may cause difficulties in the development community, but it is better to address water availability now than when the property has been platted and homes built.

If you have any questions regarding our concerns, please call either of us. Thank you for your consideration.


Stephen J. Hirschey

Water Resources Program

John Glynn

Water Quality Program


The Guemes Island Environmental Trust has several articles on Guemes Island water resources .

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