Common-sense solution to diverse county groundwater protection guest Opinion

The San Juan County Critical Areas Ordinance Review Committee has already tackled a number of tough issues and will shortly complete work on another important issue upon which, happily, there is agreement among the diverse members of the committee.

The Washington Growth Management Act requires that we designate areas that are vital to the quality of our groundwater as “Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas.” But because of the geological makeup of our islands and with the data we currently have about our aquifers, the Review Committee did not feel it could justify recommending different levels of protection for different areas of the county.

Consequently, it has recommended a countywide set of common sense protections of our groundwater, including checks on businesses that handle and dispose of hazardous chemicals. The recommended new regulations would be no more difficult, and in some cases simpler, to comply with than the current county code.

In order to have a uniform, countywide set of protections for our aquifers, the entire county would be designated as one Critical Area Recharge Area. Some citizens have expressed concern that this designation could have unintended consequences, as other “critical” designations, such as “critical wildlife habitat,” automatically trigger a set of broader regulations. However, the committee has taken care to revise the county code to insure that the Critical Aquifier Recharge Area designation does not create additional restrictions.

It’s important to note that this designation is not permanent. If problems should arise or new information becomes available, the County Council can revise the code at any time to designate specific areas as “Critical” and others as not critical. But based on what we know today, the proposed amendments to the county code represent a reasonable, cost effective approach that meets the requirements of state law.

A public hearing with the County Council will be held this fall. For questions or more information please contact Shireene Hale at 370-7569, or visit the County web site at

Shireene Hale is the County Staff Liaison with Critical Areas Ordinance Review Committee.