By MAIA BELLON
The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is aware of concerns Whidbey Island well owners have expressed about impacts on their water supply from the U.S. Navy’s irrigation of the Gallery Golf Course. We’d like to thank the Whidbey News-Times for this opportunity to address those concerns and explain the steps we have taken to ensure that private wells are not impacted by the Navy well.
Ecology is authorized by the state legislature to manage Washington water resources for the benefit of all of its citizens. We recognize that Whidbey residents have a deep appreciation of what a precious resource good, clean water is on an island where the only source of water is the rain that soaks into the ground. Through our partnership with Island County, we have studied groundwater supplies for many years and continue to carefully monitor water in order to effectively manage the limited water supply on Whidbey and Camano islands. We are committed to ensuring water is wisely allocated and used efficiently in Island County.
Ecology approved a water right permit for the U.S. Navy to irrigate the Gallery Golf Course from a well in the summer of 2011. The permit requires the Navy to monitor water levels in its well and measure the amount of water used. The Navy, in fact, is doing more frequent monitoring than what is required under the permit, by measuring each week, and is providing this information to Ecology each month. Ecology, in turn, has made this information available to the public through Island County’s website. While the data collected over the summer months show slightly more decline in water levels than a computer model predicted, we have received no reports of water levels dropping precipitously in private wells as a result of pumping from the Navy’s well.
We know any decline in water levels is alarming to property owners and water users who rely on wells neighboring the Navy’s golf course. However, we are confident that the water level reductions occurring in wells near the golf course are within an acceptable range and show a fairly typical seasonal fluctuation.
During the dry summer months when it doesn’t rain, it is typical for water levels in wells drawing from underground aquifers to decline primarily due to increased water use. When the rain returns in the winter and wells pump less, water levels rise. The computer model run by the consultant for the Navy only predicted the well “drawdown” or decline in water levels that would result directly from pumping the Navy’s Gallery Golf Course well. The model did not account for total drawdown in neighboring wells. Total drawdown is a combination of the golf course well drawdown added to the combined effects of all the drawdown caused by pumping all the wells in the aquifer. Therefore, we do expect to see more effect than the computer model predicted in real measurements.
For instance, the computer model predicted the well nearest to the Gallery Golf Course well would drop about 3.5 feet. At the end of August, the water level in this well had dropped about six feet. This well still has about 63 feet of available drawdown before impairment would occur. The greatest amount of drawdown typically occurs early on, and then flattens out through time. The drawdown curve for the aquifer now appears to have flattened out.
I want to emphasize that there is a lot of water available in the aquifer and we haven’t seen or heard of any instances where homeowners are being impaired from using their own wells. There have also been concerns about sea water intrusion into the fresh water aquifers, but this is an issue we constantly monitor in Island County. Although the Navy well and the neighboring wells tap a common aquifer, hydrological conditions are such that the risk of sea water intrusion is low.
Nevertheless, we are actively monitoring the Navy’s permit and can order the Navy to reduce or stop pumping if data indicate the withdrawal is unsustainable. We would expect full cooperation from the Navy who has expressed a desire to be a good neighbor to all well owners near the golf course.
Ecology and Island County are watching out for impairment to the wells drawing groundwater from the same aquifer being tapped by the Gallery Golf Course well. We will be monitoring the aquifer year-round to determine the timing and recoverability of the aquifer before the next pumping season. This will continue throughout the permit stage of the water right to help determine the sustainability of the aquifer before a final water right certificate is issued.
We also want to emphasize that water from the Navy’s Gallery Golf Course well cannot be used for any other purpose than irrigating the golf course. Water pumped from the golf course well goes to a pond for temporary storage and then is pumped from the pond to irrigate the golf course. The water right for the Gallery Golf Course was specifically issued only for irrigation of 85 acres of the golf course, and does not allow water to be used for any other purpose. The Navy does not have the legal authority or the infrastructure to transport the water elsewhere on base.
Some island residents have suggested that Ecology inform them of all water right applications beyond a certain quantity. Ecology is willing to work with the Island County Water Resources Advisory Committee and Island County to provide additional public notification of pending applications beyond what is required by law. From now on, Ecology will be notifying Island County of all new water right applications that are filed in the county.
In our role as manager of the state’s water resources, we want you to know that we are keeping a close eye on the Navy’s water use and invite Whidbey residents to call us if you have questions about how the golf course irrigation may be affecting your well. Inquiries should go to Jacque Klug of Ecology’s Northwest office at 425-649-7270.
Maia Bellon is the manager of the Water Resources Program at the Washington Department of Ecology.