Quality of water focus of new Lower Yakima Valley group


Yakima County Public Services Director Vern Redifer explains the process of designing a Groundwater Management Area in the Lower Yakima Basin.

As part of the application process to form a Groundwater Management Area, a public meeting must be held.

That's according to Lisa Freund of Yakima County Public Services.

She and representatives of several other agencies were on hand in Sunnyside last night (Tuesday) to discuss the purpose of forming a Groundwater Management Area and the intent to do so in the Lower Yakima Basin.

The reason for forming such a group, said Charlie McKinney of the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), is to address water quality issues from just below Union Gap to Benton City.

Yakima County Commissioner Rand Elliott said, "I hope this will be a process where all interests can be addressed."

McKinney said the process of forming a Groundwater Management Area is established under a WAC.

"The intent is to form partnerships and cooperation between various entities at the local level," he said.

Because a group interested in water quantity issues has already been established in the Yakima region, McKinney said there has been a consensus that water quality issues should be addressed by the Groundwater Management Area that is proposed.

DOE, he said, grants the order to establish a Groundwater Management Area and Yakima County has volunteered to act as the lead for the group.

The group, said McKinney, must be formed by various appointments from entities interested in the water quality in the Lower Yakima Basin. The agencies include the Yakima and Benton health districts, DOE, Environmental Protection Agency, city governments, county governments, as well as the citizens.

The boundaries have been decided based on the flow of water through the Lower Yakima Basin, and that is why parts of Benton County are included.

"The advisory group is where the work really gets hammered out," said McKinney.

He said the advisory group for the Groundwater Management Area will be able to set policies and schedules.

The Groundwater Management Area group, said McKinney, will form a plan for identifying potential nitrate sources, management strategies, monitoring systems and reviews of the plan.

Funding, he said, can come from a variety of sources. The primary source for such a group is typically the state legislature, but private entity and grant funding are other ways in which to pay for a Groundwater Management Area.

Vern Redifer spoke to those gathered at the meeting. He is the director of Yakima County Public Services, and said the effort of addressing water quality in the Lower Yakima Basin resulted from media reports in 2008.

In 2009 various organizations began meeting to discuss the nitrate level issues affecting the Lower Yakima Valley Basin.

The Department of Agriculture, DOE, EPA and local health district were all involved in those discussions.

A report based on various studies was developed, according to Redifer. That report led to further action, including the testing of wells potentially contaminated by nitrates and other contaminants in the area.

Over the course of the past several months residents were urged to have their water tested for nitrates and approximately 8,000 test strips were sent to property owners.

Redifer said about 2,000 of those tests were returned to the county and approximately 9 percent showed elevated nitrate levels.

"More than 150 reverse osmosis systems have been installed," he said.

Because none of the agencies involved in the study "have the silver bullet," Redifer said it is important to establish a Groundwater Management Area to further address the water quality issues.

"It must be a coordinated effort," he said, reiterating citizen participation is of extreme importance.

The meeting was one step among many for forming a Groundwater Management Area in the Lower Yakima Basin and the community was urged to provide input into its formation.

Freund said those interested in learning more or who wish to comment can contact her via email at lisa.frund@co.yakima.wa.us or by calling 509-574-2300.


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