Water panel begins final plan

Island County has enough water to last a long time, but the questions of will it be drinkable and will it be clean remain unanswered.

The county’s Water Resources Advisory Committee has begun work on its final Water Resource Management Plan. Set for finalization in June, the plan will be available to the public by April.

“They’re not regulations, so much as solutions,” said Sheilagh Byler, Environmental Health Specialist for Island County.

Under an outline of the plan released last week, the committee will set out to manage how Island County will be able to accommodate future growth and strains on its water supply.

In preparation for the plan, the WRAC has completed a series of topic papers that will be the basis for the final plan. The 12 papers will be compiled into a concise draft that outlines the proposed future of water use in Island County.

“If we just brought 12 papers in as a plan, it’d be real scary,” Byler said.

By dividing the process into smaller components, the WRAC and its subcommittees have been able to identify problems and solutions. The process has also allowed the group to update the best available science used. The WRAC’s recommendations for solutions to protect aquifer recharge areas will be incorporated into the county’s critical areas update.

“The reason we’re doing this plan is to provide a safe, adequate water supply,” Byler said. “We’re hoping that it will make water more available and safer.”

Island County faces several challenges in preparing for future water management. Availability of clean, safe drinking water is dependent upon the county’s sole-source aquifer. This means that with the exception of the City of Oak Harbor and NAS Whidbey, the rest of Whidbey Island gets its drinking water from one underground source.

“Water is a health issue,” Byler said.

WRAC will conduct a public hearing on the final plan at the end of May, before it is presented to the Island County Commissioners.

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