Water availability in Skagit County has continued to become a more difficult issue that restricts people’s rights to build and irrigate. What was once thought of as an unlimited resource has now become a difficult and increasing problem that takes a lot of study, science, engineering and proof before issuance of permit or allowing irrigation to commence.
Most of Skagit County is limited on water because of the 2001 Skagit Instream flow rule. Piped water is available from Skagit PUD and Anacortes water system and many other small private water groups. Wells are allowed in certain areas based on Department of Ecology (DOE) studies. In addition, DOE has purchased several senior water rights from a Big Lake water association who abandoned their wells after PUD water was made available to the association. DOE has recently purchased a water right from Seattle City light from their Dam projects. With both of these purchases, DOE is finalizing the process for property owners to be able to use these water rights to put in a well for home use. DOE is drawing a map showing what properties are eligible.
Skagit County is required by the law to make sure water is legally available, and actually present, before issuance of building permits to anyone.
This is local government’s responsibility. Nothing more and nothing less.
Guemes Island is an example of an area that struggles with water availability issues. Guemes Island has a sole source aquifer. It is an Island, completely surrounded by salt water of Puget Sound. There is only so much water in an aquifer. Local Government’s job is to make sure the rules are applied fairly and equally to all property owners, not just the ones who built first. Skagit County requires flow restrictors on all wells on Guemes, to reduce the rate of withdraw from the aquifer.
Water samples are required every year, to test for Chloride levels, to monitor if saltwater intrusion is occurring in existing wells.
I have listened to the residents of Guemes Island, the Skagit County Prosecutors office and the Department of Ecology which is responsible for ground water in the state of Washington about these water issues to try to come up with the best solution for Guemes Island. There are limited solutions in which neighborly conversations over the fence, or on the ferry, are much more effective at getting community support on any issue. One solution for areas without eligible water is to install a Rain catchment system. These are allowed on the Island and trucked water is available if needed. Another approach is requiring meters with cell phone connections on every well on the Island.
Data would be sent on a daily basis to monitor every well.
The Skagit Instream rule did not have any new water rights available for Agriculture. The Agriculture community is working on solutions to get about 1% of the river flow for Agriculture use before the river enters Skagit Bay. Skagit County has worked hard to keep agriculture viable. We require 40 acre minimum lot size and our Comprehensive Plans say we want to keep Agriculture viable in our community. Water is required for most crops to be economical viability of Agriculture.
As one can see, the solutions to water issues can be difficult to maneuver, expensive and hard to solve but as a Skagit County Commissioner I continue to work hard to push for a fair and equitable solution to get water to all citizens for their current needs and for future development.
We have a housing availability problem in Skagit Valley, one of the lowest vacancy rates (less than 1%) of any community in the state. It is estimated that we are about 3500 units short.
Nobody wants urban sprawl to spread into our timber and agriculture lands. The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) is Washington state law that requires state and local governments to manage Washington's growth by identifying and protecting critical areas and natural resource lands, designating urban growth areas, preparing comprehensive plans (CCP’s) and implementing them through capital investments and development regulations. This approach to growth management is unique among states. The act (Chapter 36.70A RCW) was adopted by the Legislature in 1990. The Growth Management Act (GMA) restricts where new housing may be built. It mandates a goal of 80% of the growth takes place in towns and cities and their urban growth areas. Only 20% of the growth is to take place in the unincorporated county. The Growth Management Act is reducing sprawl but at the same time it has reduced the number of units being built and has contributed to the cost of housing.
Skagit County’s GMA Committee consists of a steering committee made up of the Mayors of the cities and towns and Skagit County Commissioners who are a part of this agreement who meet every other month. They are supported by the Technical Advisory Committee which are the planning directors of the towns and cities and three Skagit County planning staff. Each town, city and county follow their own Comprehensive Plans and zoning regulations. None of the towns, cities or county have any authority over each other. Skagit County is not able to tell a city they must increase the density of their local zoning but can do a lot to assist in their efforts.
Skagit County along with the cities and towns agreed on County-Wide Planning Policies (CCP’s) back in 2002. https://skagitcounty.net/AuditorRecording/Documents/RecordedDocuments/2017/12/13/201712130068.pdf
The agreements objective is to help the County and the Cities cooperate in efforts to provide visionary leadership on regional plans, policies and issues. It is the purpose of this Agreement to enhance the ability of the parties to improve the present health, safety, convenience and welfare of their citizens and to plan for the future development of the Cities and the County to the end that the governments achieve a county –wide pattern of community-building, land use, and conservation that reflects the environmental, economic, aesthetic, and social values of city and county residents.”
Housing is a complicated issue facing most communities in Washington State. The lack of work force housing in Skagit Valley is a community problem that can be solved by having a variety of different types of housing available and proper Zoning needs to allow this variety or it can’t be built. Local zoning codes and comprehensive plans are the tools local communities have to make changes.
As a member of the GMA steering committee, I have consistently advocated for a uniform inventory and reporting method for each jurisdiction. I strongly support that each jurisdiction report their available land to show the number of units available to be built within their current zoning so we have a county wide inventory of available growth potential. This alleviates confusion and misinformation between jurisdictions. My job as a Skagit County Commissioner is to continue to ask how are we doing in reducing our vacancy rate county wide and to find ways the County can assist in alleviating that shortage. My goal is to support housing to keep Skagit County balanced for growth and at the same time preserving our delicate environment.
Skagit County Public Health has been dealing with COVID-19 since early March, 2020.
Unified Command was activated along with our city partners to answer questions and help with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distribution in the beginning. They began a drive through test site in partnership with Skagit Valley College (SVC) on April 21.
The test site at SVC is coordinated by Unified Command. This would not be possible if not for the many good volunteers. This is the only drive through test site of its kind in Washington State. Others require symptoms to be showing in patents. They are open 5 days a week, from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Test results are available in 24 to 36 hours after testing. Over 20,000 tests have been given as of August 14th.
A local hotel has been contracted for housing individuals who are not able to isolate in their own housing situation. Another facility has been contracted to house first responders if they need to be isolated. Public Health has been doing the contract tracing of all positive case who live in Skagit County, to make sure people are aware that they have been in contact with a positive case and to quarantine themselves.
Public Health has data and information available on social media, and its website.
Skagit County has worked with Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) to distribute $970,000 to small business and nonprofit organization from the CARES Act.
As a Skagit County Commissioner I continue to work to get COVID under control in our county to get us back to a normal way of life.
Paid for by Re-elect Ron Wesen County Commissioner PO Box 1345 Burlington, WA 98233