Watershed Planning’s Watershed Moment

CELP and Vashon-Maury Island Ground Water Protection Committee member Michael Laurie sent CELP an email in response to the cover story in CELP’s Spring 2006 WaterWatch. As someone immersed in the Watershed planning process, Mr. Laurie’s firsthand account of the process shows that if the relative scope of the Watershed Plan is small enough to be manageable then real “on-the-ground improvements” to stream flows may result. While the issues raised in the Newsletter still persist, Michael's story is inspiring and one that we hope can be repeated throughout the state. Please read his email below. Great work Michael!

            “Shirley and other CELP staff,

         I read the recent CELP newsletter article about the Watershed Planning            process. The article is bothered by how much power that the process gives to the local Watershed Plan groups. I agree that others should have more input. The article also says that most of the plans are not likely to lead to any positive changes on the ground. This is where I have to disagree.

        Having recently gone through the very time consuming, painful, stressful, at times very controversial, and according to most people involved, ultimately successful process of developing a Watershed Plan for Vashon and Maury Islands, I believe our Watershed Plan is leading to and will continue to lead to positive real changes. We have received two grants and are looking for more, to implement elements of the plan. We are already working to develop educational, point of sale, home survey and other programs to reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers on the island. I have started work with the largest island water utility to develop a water conservation program. A local group is looking at ways to reduce the septic system pollution problem.

        We on Vashon and Maury Islands have chosen to have a large amount of our Rural Drainage fees fund a very detailed, multi-year King County staff directed study of the groundwater quantity and quality for the island, that will likely become a model for the state. This detailed model will give us better information to make decisions about sustainable use of the water and protection of the water on the island. We are in the process of contacting a group that will put on an educational program for livestock owners on the island, to help them develop practices that reduce erosion and pollution problems. The list goes on in terms of what we are doing and plan to do. To read our Watershed Plan please go to the following web site. http://www.vmicc.org/media/Vashon_Plan.pdf

        My advice to anyone undertaking this process is that it will take 3 times more time than expected and will be 2 or 3 times more controversial than expected. I believe that local watershed based plans like this if undertaken with an honest commitment to protect the resource by most involved, offer one of the best options for understanding and protecting the resource. I think it is a whole lot easier for people to comprehend plans that actually connect directly to where they live. I fully acknowledge that in many cases we cannot rely on local groups to think in the best interests of everyone. That is why I support groups like CELP, to ensure that there is some oversight over water planning around the state. In the development of our plan we had regular involvement from honestly concerned county and state employees and outside consultants and interested parties.”

        Michael Laurie, Watershed LLC

Background of Watershed Planning

In 1998, the state Legislature passed the Watershed Management Act which provides a framework for local governments, affected Indian Tribes, citizens and stakeholders to develop plans to manage the water resources within their watershed – a geographic area in which water naturally drains or collects. Of the 62 watersheds or Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs, pronounced “Wyrahs”) within Washington State, 42 have decided to proceed with the watershed planning process.

Each Planning Unit – a group composed of individuals representing a range of water interests – works collaboratively to produce a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. This plan, if adopted, will influence the quality and supply of water available in their WRIA. The Plan is required by the Act to include an assessment of water quantity, which must:

    * Estimate how much surface and ground water are present in the WRIA.

    * Estimate how much of that water is already allocated through water rights, claims, existing instream flows, federally reserved rights, and exempt wells.

    * Estimate how much water is actually being used.

    * Estimate how much water is needed for future use.

    * Identify locations where surface and ground water interact and recharge each other (referred to as hydraulic continuity).

    * Estimate how much surface and ground water is available for further allocation.

Another required component is the development of strategies and recommendations for increasing water supplies to provide for instream flows for fish and for future out-of-stream uses. Strategies include:

    * Increasing water supplies through conservation

    * Water reuse and use of reclaimed water

    * Voluntary water transfers of existing water rights and claims

    * Aquifer recharge and recovery

    * Additional water allocations

    * New or enhanced water storage

In addition to the mandatory issue of water quantity, planning groups may choose three optional components to include in their plans: making instream flow recommendations that the Department of Ecology can use to establish instream flows by rule, water quality, and fish habitat.

During the 2003 legislative session, the Legislature amended this Act so that these planning groups now have even more power over the State’s water resource decisions: Ecology must rely on the groups’ plans for all water permit decisions made in their respective watersheds.

CELP’s Action

CELP has been monitoring the progress of watershed plan development for 11 critical watersheds where Planning Units have opted to include instream flow recommendations in their final plan. We are focusing our efforts in areas where fish are currently listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and/or where growth and associated water withdrawals are likely to adversely impact rivers and streams. We track the general progress of these plans through meeting minutes and by reading and interpreting completed assessments and management plans. We are working with participants in several watersheds to provide advice and advocating scientifically-defensible instream flow recommendations, and watershed plans that use best available science and give adequate consideration to protecting instream values.

Related Links

To find out more about watershed planning, or to find your watershed visit Ecology’s website.

In 1998, Ecology published the “Guide to Watershed Planning and Management.”

For more information on the specific WRIAs CELP is monitoring, click on a link below.

        WRIA 1 Nooksack

        WRIA 3 and 4 Skagit

        WRIA 15 Kitsap

        WRIA 16 Skokomish

        WRIA 17 Quilcene-Snow

        WRIA 18 Elwha-Dungeness

        WRIA 19 Lyre-Hoko

        WRIA 22 and 23 Chehalis

        WRIA 32 Walla Walla

        WRIA 45 Wenatchee

        WRIA 46 Entiat


Watershed planning maps, Washington Department of Ecology.

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