Interesting changes may be coming for water systems located within tribal boundaries that are currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health. There is a push for these systems to be moved to the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, which could impact the operational and managerial requirements that affect them. Stay tuned for more info as it develops.
This week marks a significant turning point in my career and in the growth of Alpine Environmental. Effective August 18th, I terminated my employment with Okanogan Public Health and became entirely self-employed after seventeen years of public service. I'm excited to make this transition as it will allow me to provide improved services in a much more timely manner. While the loss of county employment benefits may be difficult in the short-term, I'm confident that the business will be able to grow and quickly fill this gap. I am extremely grateful for our loyal customer base that has made this momentous step possible!
Property owners are once again able to obtain approvals for water adequacy in Okanogan County, after a temporary moratorium brought about by the Hirst decision in 2016. The process can be completed either before or after a well is drilled. Applicants make their initial request through the Okanogan planning department, where the site is reviewed for legal availability. If it appears that the aquifer to be drawn from is legally available, the planning department publishes notice regarding the proposed withdrawal. If any member of the public has concerns regarding the impact of the proposed water use, a public hearing is set to review the information.
If the use is not contested, or there is no sufficient evidence set forth at the public hearing, then the planning department issues a determination of legal availability. Owners are then free to complete the water adequacy process with Okanogan County Public Health. This process includes the submission of a well log to prove a sufficient quantity of water to support a household and satisfactory analysis of water samples for coliform bacteria and nitrates.
I've been asked to serve on the eleven-member Cross-Connection Control committee that was recently formed by the Washington State Department of Health. I'm looking forward to a new opportunity to be involved at the policy level within the water industry. My unique position as both a regulator and a service provider should be a valuable asset as we work to develop a comprehensive manual for identifying water-using equipment and prescribing the appropriate backflow protection. This should prove beneficial for my clients, too, as it will give me insights as to how they will be regulated in the future.
One thing I can tell you already--there will be tighter regulation of cross-connection control in the very near future. The Department of Health has pledged to begin enforcing the mandate for all Group A water systems to hire a Cross-Connection Control Specialist. They will also be building a program to review the backflow protection in place on each system, ensuring that they installed where needed and are being tested annually.
As a result of a recent Washington Supreme Court case, Okanogan County is planning to revise the way that water approvals are issued. In the past, water adequacy was determined by Okanogan County Public Health. Applicants were required to successfully pass a coliform bacteria test and a nitrate test, and then submit a well log showing that the well was capable of producing at least 1/4-gallon per minute. These criteria proved that the water was of sufficient quality and quantity to serve the intended purpose.
Additionally, applicants will have to prove that the water is legally available to them. Just because water is present doesn't mean it is legal to use it. Okanogan County will now require applicants to come before a hearings examiner to determine if the withdrawal of water from a particular well will impair senior water right holders or the legally established minimum flow rate in the Okanogan and Methow Rivers. The ramifications of this new process could be that some properties once considered buildable real estate will no longer be suitable for construction.