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'Working groups' making progress in developing plan to rid groundwater of nitrates

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Lisa Freund of Yakima County provides members of the Groundwater Management Area advisory committee with information that will be gathered through surveys developed by the education and public outreach working group.

GRANGER - The Groundwater Management Area advisory committee met in Granger last night to discuss progress of its working groups.

Three of the seven working groups have begun making progress.

The data collection group, said Dirk Cook of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, is trying to collect as much information as possible. The group has obtained some available information from various governmental agencies.

"We're looking at how we will interface with other working groups," he said.

Cook said developing a unified database of information like where wells are located can be a complicated process.

"The initial database is lacking," he said, stating anyone who has information that could be used for the database is welcome to provide that information to his group.

"It's basically a starting point for us," said Cook, noting the Yakima Health District has information about wells that has been collected and will also be used for the database.

The cost for developing the database is estimated between $40,000 and $60,000.

"We're really in data sweeping mode," said Cook.

The Yakima Health District is also helping the education and public outreach working group.

The partnership has resulted in developing a health survey to help determine which Groundwater Management Area residents hold the highest potential risk of nitrates in their drinking water.

A draft of the assessment was provided at last night's meeting. Lisa Freund of Yakima County Public Services said the final assessment will be conducted by trained professionals.

She said the assessment is complex and will help provide additional data for the database.

Cook said he believes the assessment will help determine susceptibility.

Mark Nielson of the Benton Conservation District took exception to the assessment because it brings into question the focus of the concerns being addressed by the Groundwater Management Area advisory committee.

"Our focus is nitrates...some questions in the survey appear to be focused on bacteria," he said.

Freund and Andy Cervantes of the Yakima Health District said the survey can be a multi-purpose document, helping to determine health risks in the region.

"Bacteria and nitrates sometimes go hand-in-hand," said Cervantes.

Cook said it makes sense to assess potential public health risks caused by bacteria while assessing the risks associated with elevated nitrate levels.

Another survey developed by the education and public outreach working group is for the public. She said it will help the group determine how the public obtains information, such as via the media and which media sources are best for providing public information.

The survey also asks residents where their water comes from and if they believe elevated levels of nitrates in water can cause health concerns.

Nielson suggested a change in the language of one question because it asked if residents believe there are dangers from nitrate contaminated water. He said better language would be, "Do you understand the potential health risks of drinking water with elevated nitrate levels?"

The advisory committee members agreed with the change.

Two other surveys developed by the education and public outreach working group will be reviewed by the committee members for future discussion, including a questionnaire for health care providers.

The livestock working group has also met since last month's advisory committee meeting. That group has set its meetings for the first Thursday of each month at 5 p.m. at Radio KDNA in Granger. The group developed a list of resources it would like to have, including professional and technical support.

The livestock working group, said Steve George, would also like to coordinate its efforts with the irrigated ag working group.

The advisory committee also approved its goal statement last night.

That goal statement reads, "The purpose of the GWMA (Groundwater Management Area) is to reduce nitrate contamination concentrations in groundwater below state drinking water standards."

The group will at a later date establish its objectives and measurements of success.

Penny Mabry is the facilitator of the group. She said objectives will include measurements and timelines for accomplishing the committee's goal.

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