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Water resource plan surfaces

As the crowd of approximately 12 people poured into their seats, the speakers each took a sip of water.

A fitting beginning for a presentation on the upcoming Water Resource Management Plan, which occurred Monday night in Oak Harbor. Currently under development, the plan will recommend how to protect Island County’s water.

Approximately 70 percent of the county’s residents rely on groundwater for their potable drinking water. But the status of the hundreds of aquifers is still largely unknown.

“To accurately assess how many gallons there are is impossible,” said Don Lee, chairman of the Water Resources Advisory Committee. “And you can’t do something that’s impossible.”

County residents currently draw approximately 1 billion gallons of water out of the aquifers each year. By 2025, when the county’s population is expected to expand to 100,000 residents, an additional half billion gallons will be used.

“The big thing is that nobody knows how much is down there,” said Barry Meaux, who manages a water system for approximately 30 people outside of Oak Harbor.

The plan will evolve out of five years of work by the WRAC. In an effort to address the future of the county’s water supply, it has developed a series of papers that offer suggestions of how to conserve water, Lee said.

“We’re trying to make the plan itself only 30 to 40 pages,” he said. “Maybe we have a better chance of people using it if we make it terse and to the point.”

The plan will address such threats to the aquifers as sea water intrusion. When salt water infiltrates a well, it renders that water undrinkable because of salt and other contaminants.

“The biggest threat is still sea water intrusion,” Lee said. “Most people want to live near the water, but as they develop along the coast, it’s more likely they will develop a problem.”

Oak Harbor resident Bill Applegate said he attended the forum to learn more about the future of his water supply.

“We are reliant on ground water,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most important issues in Island County.”

Applegate said that a plan for Island County has been a long time coming.

“I can’t believe all of the work that has gone into this,” he said. “When we moved here, they had no idea what was down there.”

The open house was the first of four that are planned before a draft is finished by May 9. All forums run from 6 to 8 p.m. and will occur March 23 at the Bayview Community Hall, April 4 at the Coupeville Rec Center and April 13 at the Camano Senior Center.

Copies of topic papers are at www.islandcounty.net/health/envh/WRAC/WRAC%20main.htm.

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