Groundwater group nearing consensus


Jean Mendoza of Friends of Toppenish Creek presses for efforts on behalf of rural residents with contaminated wells during a Lower Valley groundwater advisory committee meeting in Sunnyside last night.

It's taken more than six months, but a Lower Valley groundwater advisory committee last night almost reached agreement on what its work plan should be.

The Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Area Advisory Committee has already missed the Department of Ecology's deadline of presenting a work plan or strategy for addressing groundwater contamination in the Lower Valley.

That deadline was the end of last month, but has been extended to this month.

During Thursday's meeting in Sunnyside's Denny Blaine board room, the committee's 20-or-so members reviewed a draft copy of the work plan.

All but three of them agreed to the plan.

Jean Mendoza of Friends of Toppenish Creek summed up the concerns for those opposed to the draft.

She contended the work plan as presented contained nothing to address a short-term goal for offering clean water for rural residents of the Lower Valley who rely on domestic wells with contaminated drinking water.

"I agree with Jean, we ought to have that as a short-term goal," said Tom Tebb with the Washington Deparmtent of Ecology, who was in favor of the draft plan. "There's no reason we shouldn't do that."

Mendoza said many of the families impacted by drinking water issues are poor and unable to afford the equipment needed to ensure clean water.

Mendoza also felt that some of the strategies contained in the proposed work plan should be done by the agricultural industry. For example, she contended taxpayers are already funding research by the ag industry on timing and application of nutrients.

She further called on the committee's work plan to reference a recent study by the EPA identifying dairies as likely sources of nitrate pollution in Lower Valley groundwater.

"The EPA study has not been discussed," Mendoza said of the study results released last September.

The rest of the committee agreed to tweak language in the draft plan to address the concerns so that a unanimous agreement could be presented to the state.

Even so, Mendoza still held out because she wanted to see budget numbers that supported those changes.

Accordingly, the committee agreed to spend $100,000 of the $750,000 it has in state funds on addressing clean water for those afflicted with contaminated wells.

The committee plans to hold a special meeting in two weeks to formally adopt the work plan and fine-tune its budget needs for the next two years.

There's plenty of incentive for the committee to iron out its differences and budget issues because $300,000 of the $750,000 it has in state funds have to be spent by June 30.

Vern Redifer is the county's public services director, and he noted under current budget figures the committee will spend about $100,000 between now and the end of June.

As a result, the committee will increase the pace of work in hopes of spending the remaining $200,000 before June 30.

Committee members have no choice but to at least agree on that issue.

"We have to spend the $300,000 or lose it back to the legislature," said Redifer.


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