Upper Kittitas

Kittitas development images/CELP

The Washington Department of Ecology on July 16 issued an emergency rule shutting down the upper Kittitas Valley groundwater basin – east of the Cascade Mountains roughly east of Seattle – to new wells, including wells exempt from ordinary filing requirements.

The decision marks something of a turnaround for Ecology, which had been more supportive of at least exempt well drilling in the area.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy, which together with the local group Aqua Permanente had sought restrictions, praised the decision.

CELP and Aqua outlined the background for the case as, “Currently more than 7,000 permit-exempt wells are being drilled EACH YEAR in Washington state. Exempt wells are fueling rural sprawl, and used in unlimited quantities for feedlots and dairies. Because these wells are not subject to regulation, there is no control over when and where they are drilled. There is also no control over the impact of these wells on other water users and on hydraulically connected streams. Counties have the power to determine that water is not available for new subdivisions and building permits. But they are generally unwilling (with a few exceptions) to exercise this authority. Thus, rampant new development is being built on exempt wells without oversight or consideration of public interests.”

The state Department of Ecology reported its rule-making decision this way:

After nearly two years of negotiations, Ecology was unable to gain a commitment from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners that they were willing to move forward with a memorandum of agreement and alternative rule approach that would have limited the uncontrolled proliferation of so-called “exempt groundwater wells” in upper Kittitas County.

Since 1998, nearly 3,000 wells have been drilled in Kittitas County, prompting concerns that groundwater pumping in the headwaters region of the county threatens senior water users and streamflows in the Yakima Basin. A number of parties, including the citizens group Aqua Permanente, the Yakama Nation, and the city of Roslyn, have asked that Ecology close the groundwater to further appropriation while a groundwater study is completed.

Earlier this week, an emergency rule expired that provided a mechanism for Ecology and the County to co-manage groundwater related to housing developments. The temporary rule reflected commitments the parties made last year in a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), and had been revised and updated three times while the parties worked towards agreement on a permanent groundwater management rule.

“We recognize economic vitality is directly tied to water in the Yakima Basin – and we have been looking for an approach that would have allowed some limited new uses while also protecting the rights of senior water right holders,” explained Ecology director Jay Manning. “We had hoped to move forward as partners with the county to protect this vital resource until more is known about groundwater supplies in the upper county.

“We thought we had reached an agreement that would allow for some development in the upper county and at the same time protect the rights of current and future water users and streamflows in the Yakima River and its tributaries.”

A groundwater study designed to gain a better understanding of the connection between groundwater and surface waters was funded by the Legislature and will commence soon.

“Rather than close the groundwater during the study period, Ecology had proposed to partner with the County to (1) limit exempt wells to certain locations and reduced water volumes; (2) require metering of water use, including withdrawals from exempt wells; and (3) require notice to prospective property buyers of potential water shortages,” Manning explained. “The county has struggled to come to a decision and has missed three previous decision deadlines related to finalizing an agreement with Ecology. Faced with a management gap, we are adopting this temporary rule.”

The emergency rule will be in place for 120 days.

Some new water uses will be allowed under the emergency rule, but only if the depletion of the source will be fully mitigated. Mitigation can generally be achieved by acquiring and transferring or retiring another existing water right from the same source. Some existing sources of mitigation water are already available and Ecology is developing a water banking system to allow for access to mitigation water by new water uses.

Manning noted the agency remains open to a partnership with the county, and is willing to continue negotiations regarding the proposed partnership approach, but that the agency had to put interim protections in place.

The department added that “Ecology and Kittitas County continue to negotiate in good faith.”

CELP responded with its own statement:

“This is unprecedented,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, director of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Ecology has never before completely closed a basin to all water rights, both permitted and exempt. This is a step in the right direction given the gravity of the harm to senior water users and salmon streams.”

In September 2007, Aqua Permanente and CELP filed a petition with the Department of Ecology asking that no further well drilling be allowed in Kittitas County until more is understood about groundwater resources. Ecology denied the petition and instead entered into protracted negotiations with County officials. After two years of wrangling, the negotiations failed.

“Ecology really had no choice. ” said Melissa Bates of Aqua Permanente. “The County was not cooperating. That Ecology has finally done the right thing is both unexpected and welcome.”

All water in the Yakima Basin is appropriated and water users with rights dating to as early as 1905 are required to shut off use on a regular basis. All new water users must have a water right permit with the exception of “domestic exempt” wells. Exempt wells are authorized in the state Groundwater Act, enacted in 1945.

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Washington

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Blue House, Olympia

According to various counts, the number of statehouse reporters at Olympia, which numbered close to three dozen only a few years ago, now is down to seven.

That’s down from nine, with the department of Adam Wilson from the Olympian (to work as a speechwriter for Governor Chris Gregoire) and Rich Roesler of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. They’ve been helpful and enjoyable Blue House visits on runs to Olympia; we’ll miss them there, and in their papers.

Those reporting spots may be filled (we’re told they probably will). But the situation is bleak. Reporter Andrew Garber of the Seattle Times, one of the few left, writes, “The survivors can now fit comfortably in my one-room office overlooking the Capitol. . . . This is a story not so much about the loss of reporters as a loss of information. Rich and Adam have been covering state government for years. They know the players, understand the budget and, most importantly, can separate spin from reality.”

Fewer and fewer such.

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Ullman

Sharon Ullman

Idaho’s governor race for 2010 is beginning to fill, after its fashion. We don’t know for sure if the incumbent Republican, C.L. “Butch” Otter, will run (though the weight of opinion is that he will), and there aren’t any Democratic contenders emerging (some being talked about quietly, but no serious movement yet). But. There’s independent Jana Kemp, who has previously served as a Republican legislator (albeit a relatively moderate one). And among the Republicans Rex Rammell, who ran for the Senate last cycle as an independent, and (apparently) Pro-Life Richardson, who has run for office before too. Not a crew of political giant-killers, but an interesting gumbo.

And now, some added spice: Sharon Ullman, the Ada County commissioner, who told the Idaho Statesman today that she plans to run.

Almost anything you can say about Ullman, beyond the fact that she is an Ada County commissioner (and held the office for two years once before, earlier in the decade), can be interpreted or contradicted through a kaleidoscope. She has run for office as a Republican, a Democrat, and as an independent. She has often been in the middle of local government firestorms, though, seemingly, less so in her current run on the commission. (A description of her first term: “Some called it a personality conflict with her co-commissioners, others accused her of being divisive. Ullman always insisted she was simply standing up for what she believed.”) She has been accused of taking her job un-seriously, though she seems to keep herself well informed about the county and county issues, and she seems passionate about it – there’s a wonkish component there. Alongside something that feels like populism. It’s an unusual mix, and where it might take a gubernatorial candidacy is hard to say.

Why would she? To judge from the Statesman report: “Bottom line, public health and safety. Isn’t that what government is all about.”

Her blog – she has been blogging throughout this year on the commission – may offer a few more clues. The main one, from June 28, and apparently the only one referring directly to Otter: “More often than not I agree with Governor Otter but this past legislative session had to disagree with his road and bridge funding policies. Personally, I really like the Governor, but politically I am wondering what he is thinking these days and whom he represents with regard to this issue.”

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In Washington, Democratic leaders in the legislature this session turned down one of their key backer segments – labor – on a number of key items. (One that was notable, limiting employer requirements that workers attend meetings on non-work related matters such as religion or politics, was adopted in Oregon but not Washington. In Idaho – uh, what was the question?) Now labor is looking at payback, which you presume may mean primary challenges, or withholding of funding or campaign troops. (Although, would they withhold in the case of serious Republican challenges? Or would that be what it would be thought to take to make the point?)

How far this goes is up for guess right now. But a piece on the Seattle P-I site is worth a review for a gauge of how deeply the feelings are running. The comments section is very long, and highly passionate.

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Ridenbaugh Press has launched a wiki reference on the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

The site contains some overview information about the adjudication, and will be filled in with more over time. Readers are invited to add to the site.

A quick user note: You need to set up an account (basically, name and password) to get to the content. It’s pretty quick and painless (and, of course, free).

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walmart

Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart store which has served the Lewiston-Clarkston area is undergoing a move, from Lewiston on the Idaho side of the Snake River to Clarkston on the Washington, and shifting from a standard store to a larger supercenter. The new Clarkston facility opens sometime later this month; the Lewiston store will close after an overlap of a month or so.

The departure from Lewiston will result, naturally, in a loss of tax revenue in Nez Perce County, which has county officials concerned.

None of which is an unusual development, except maybe for the shuttle across state lines. But a slice of commentary in the Right Mind blog seems to cry out for response:

“I can’t figure this out. The progressive-liberals say that when Wal-Mart comes to town, jobs disappear. But now they are saying that when Wal-Mart leaves town, jobs disappear. Sounds like global warming to me: everything bad is caused by it.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

Some businesses add to the size of a local economy – the big paper mill at Lewiston, for example. Others operate within the size and structure of a location’s overall economy: Few retail or local service businesses make the economy larger. In a place like Lewiston-Clarkston, there are a limited number of retail dollars available to spend. Add new retail to the mix and you’re not expanding the number of dollars available for retail spending, you’re just slicing the pie thinner. That is why when a giant like Wal-Mart comes to town, a number of smaller businesses are likely to shut down, because the revenues and the margins become too thin for them to continue to operate.

If Wal-Mart leaves a town (not something that has happened in a lot of places), that effect theoretically should over time reverse itself: Smaller businesses should arise to fill the gap. But that’s not relevant to Lewiston-Clarkston, which is one economic community; the new store will serve the same population as the old one did. And because it is adding new grocery and other facilities, the effect may turn out to be the shutdown of some local grocery-related business. Lewiston-Clarkston will not, after all, have any more dollars available for spending on groceries after the supercenter opens than it does now.

The tax dollars paid by Wal-Mart will still be paid, only on the Washington side of the line – no massive change there, except for which county gets the money. But perhaps Right Mind has an answer to why this corporation, which according to so much conservative theory ought to be driven so heavily in its decisions by tax rates, should move from lower-tax Idaho to higher-tax Washington. Unless, perhaps, taxes are not after all the only consideration driving business location decisions . . .

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Imagine coming to work knowing that this is Black Thursday, the day layoffs hit at your workplace, only no one knows, yet, who or how many. What would that be like?

For anyone not personally familiar with the dynamic, a page at Oregon Media Central will give you the whole eerie feel, from inside the newsroom of the Salem Statesman-Journal. (The news seemed to be, six employee losses plant-wide, but some of the information was uncertain, and there may have been more.

Updates continued all day, reporting on the scene, up to a little over an hour ago. The first one, at 9:30 a.m., started this way:

It doesn’t seem to have started here yet but is nearly sure to be this morning. The pub’s office is dark right now. Everyone keeps scanning the newsroom to see who is leaving; some gallows humor. Definitely more fake chuckling than usual. Also, more all-black ensembles.

I think a lot of people are following Gannett blog or the #blackthursday tag on Twitter via cell. I know I am.

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We just finished watching (on DVD) the John Adams miniseries. It won a lot of awards; it gets here a recommendation to watch. As a drama, it was flawed in structure, rambling (determined to rope in all the key elements of Adams’ adult life) and a little unfocused, but the history is mostly accurate, and the people and setting are a lot like what it must have been like: Difficult, messy, contentious and very human.

It turns out to be locally pertinent viewing. This morning an e-version of a new book out by Idaho Republican (this time around, and at the moment) gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, A Nation Divided: The War for America’s Soul (available via his web site), and quite a bit of it reaches back to that time. Sort of.

Here’s one summation, near the start of the book:

In the beginning there were socialists and capitalists. The socialists said “let us force our neighbors to be charitable that all mankind may be equal.” The capitalists said “let us give our neighbors freedom that they may choose to be charitable for charity freely given is true charity.” But the socialists disagreed that man could ever rise to be charitable; he must be forced. The capitalists disagreed. And henceforth the war for freedom began.
And men made themselves kings and rulers. And despotism and tyranny abounded. And man lost his freedom. And the capitalists fought back as blood covered the earth. And the great Father who sits on his throne in the heavens watched and wept as man fought for his freedom. But man was not worthy of freedom. And more blood covered the earth. Then a righteous people arose and the Father said it is time for man to be free. And the people fought against the King and the Father sent his angels. And the people won their freedom. And the people knew they must bind the ambitions of men. So they assembled their wisest and counseled together and asked the Father to help them create a Constitution. But men’s thirst for power continued. And the Constitution was argued and its meaning distorted. And men began again to lose their freedom…

To say that passage is representative of the whole book (upwards of a quarter of it is given to texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and an essay by Ezra Taft Benson; a lot of it goes to quotes) would be unfair, but it does indicate where Rammell is going. Here’s the way Rammell closes his take on America’s past, present and future:

“…And the capitalists fought back for their freedom and vowed to save the Constitution. And God was on their side. And the armies of socialism led by Satan began to fear. And good men and women rallied to the cause. And the Constitution’s original meaning was accepted. And America reset her course. And she returned to her glory. And freedom and happiness were once again found in America!”

Hard to say how even to describe something like that. But by way of putting it into context, a viewing of John Adams would be useful.

Comments are welcome.

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