Imagine you pick up your weekly Islands’ Sounder and the headline screams “County Acquires Rights to All Breathable Air in the County.” You would think: it must be the “Flounder,” the annual April Fool’s Day edition.
Don’t laugh. Buried in the Aug. 20 edition of the Sounder, near the end of the one and a half pages of Legal and Public Notices, were notices of the County’s application to the Washington State Department of Ecology to acquire rainwater catchment rights for all parcels on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and San Juan Islands.
Now admittedly, the county says it is only trying to help those of us who are (or wish to be) collecting rainwater for domestic consumption so that we do not have to apply to the state for our own permit. But the county is not assigning or otherwise transferring those water rights to the property owners. If their applications are approved as submitted, the county will acquire the rainwater catchment rights for the next 50 years. If water rights have not previously been granted by the state, the county’s water rights (if approved) would apparently become the “senior” or dominant water rights for each parcel.
Interestingly enough, while the county admits that it does not own the land for which it is seeking the water rights, it does state in the applications that it has the legal authority to claim those water rights. The basis for the legal authority claim is not disclosed nor at this point has the county provided a response to my inquiry as to what legal basis they are using to claim those rights from private landowners.
Nothing in the county’s application obligates them to let us freely use this rainwater. I wonder what restrictions, fees, permits or inspections may later be imposed by the county? Am I being cynical? Perhaps, but 50 years ago I am sure no one would have predicted the absurd County restrictions on Guest Houses coming into effect.
There is no rational justification for the county doing this water rights “grab” with the state. I for one am concerned when I hear that the county is trying to “help” me and the rest of the landowners in the county. I do not recall asking for this help. Did you?
We have until 30 days from Aug. 27 (the second publishing of the notice) to file an objection with the State Department of Ecology or for the county to withdraw these ill-conceived applications. I ask you to join me in objecting to the State Department of Ecology and also with the County Council and Administration. If the county has nothing to “hide” then presumably they will entertain public meetings and input into the wisdom of these water right permit applications.
Don Webster is an Orcas Island resident whose sole source of water is rainwater catchment.