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Water supply task force considers path forward

October 5, 2018

An agricultural sprinkler waters a field of potatoes in July 2015, east of Avon-Allen Road.

MOUNT VERNON — Skagit County agricultural representatives on a state water supply task force requested Wednesday that the task force takes a comprehensive look at research done on the Skagit River watershed.

In a letter to the task force, Gary Jones of the Western Washington Agricultural Association and Skagit County Drainage and Irrigation Districts Consortium Director Jenna Friebel said the 2001 Skagit Instream Flow Rule that limits the use of well water “did not include, analyze or address agricultural, mineral resources or forest land uses of water.”

Skagit County agriculture’s exclusion from the rule contributed to creating a confused state of Skagit County’s water supply and policy today, Friebel said at Wednesday’s task force meeting at the Skagit Public Utility District offices.

“So I think that’s part of why everyone is here today,” she said.

The water supply task force was created in this year’s state capital budget to review water needs related to agricultural uses, domestic uses and instream flows as well as to develop and recommend studies.

It has the capacity to analyze gaps in data, update and reconcile data, complete missing data and install groundwater monitoring stations. Unless extended, the task force expires June 30, 2019.

Since 2001, many scientific and technical studies have been conducted on water supply and fisheries in the Skagit River watershed, Friebel said.

In order to inform the task force’s future recommendations, Friebel and Jones asked that the task force hire a third party to create a comprehensive annotated bibliography of relevant scientific and technical studies completed to date.

“We think by examining what is out there and what is known we can do a better job making decisions,” Jones said.

The bibliography would work to inform the task force’s actions, Friebel said.

“Having these in one location with synopses would be helpful,” state Department of Agriculture Policy Adviser Kelly McLain said.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Environmental Policy Director Larry Wasserman, who is a member of the task force, said such a comprehensive project would be daunting and expensive. Task force members should identify priorities in order to narrow down the bibliography’s scope, he said.

Based on the comments of Jones and Wasserman, task force co-chair Kristine Lytton requested task force members be surveyed on their water supply priorities.

“We are very diverse, and maybe somehow or another based on people’s input we could come back with what our focuses are and what our agendas are going to be over the next year,” Lytton said.

Throughout the rest of the year, the task force’s efforts will focus on the upper Skagit River watershed. On Jan. 1, it can expand to the lower watershed.

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