By Marianne Lincoln
Land use planning meets sole source aquifer and the fight is on
The Pierce County communities of Midland, Summit, Waller, Parkland Spanaway Frederickson, Graham, Elk Plain and South Hill along with Lakewood and University Place have one thing in common, they sit on a sole source aquifer. That means, their only supply of water is groundwater from precipitation. The Muck and Clover Chambers watersheds consist of shallow creeks with a network of ponds and lakes connected to groundwater layers fed by rainfall. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency has specific rules and guidelines for sole source aquifers. One of those is that you do not put water from a different watershed into it. So mixing water lines with Green River water piped in by the City of Tacoma is a dicey proposition.
Now that Pierce County Planning has tossed out much of the community plans created by these individual unincorporated communities, they have left the area with a massive zoning plan to increase housing units, build high rise apartment complexes, split single family lots, and consider a large city, ‘Baby Huey.’1 The ‘Baby Huey’ report (Called Parkland Incorporation) is due from the Washington Department of Commerce to the legislature on June 1. The process began in the fall of 2022 starting with a contract with Community Attributes, Inc. (CAI), a community and economic development consulting firm.
And at the base of all this growth is a begging question and an elephant in the room, water. Where is it all going to come from? We have growth, we need housing, and much of the new housing is going on sewer systems, but those sewers are taking water out of the area and pumping it into Puget Sound. The Chambers Clover Watershed Council has been having some intense discussions by email that extended to their board meeting on Tuesday May 23. The Clover is flooded in one section due to beavers and already dry in another from Brookdale Greens through Parkland. Dry creeks do not produce fish, frogs or bugs. Without bugs, the food chain for birds is disrupted. People have noticed a drop in birds around their houses. Last summer’s drought brought many wild animals to housing areas to find water. We have not recovered from the drought this year. Rainfall is low. I also noted on our annual trip to Nisqually Lake, we could not see any water in it at all. When do the red flags go up the pole?
Pierce County does NOT have a hydrologist. They desperately need one or several. At least, many of us think so. The State Department of Ecology needs to hire some people that care and will look into this also. Doing this wrong could cost the County Federal Funding on everything. There needs to be concern. There needs to be a serious Roundtable discussion between the government parts involved.
Sometimes, Earth’s jet stream brings an atmospheric river, such is California’s plight and savior this year for their long droughted landscape. Some years, that atmospheric river comes to the Pacific Northwest, floods and replenishes the ground water. It is our job to find ways to balance the rain events and the growing need to consume and flush fresh water.
Action starts here. There are growing calls from various stewards of water and habitat that see the growing problem. Clover Creek was shallow and often flooded, hence, since settlers arrived, humans have been trying various ways to constrain and control it, most all to is eventual demise.
This letter, from Don Russell to Al Schmauder, Sent: Monday, May 15, 2023 1:11 PM, both long time creek stewards is telling:
The data exists in the now discontinued 23 years of Lakewood’s/Pierce Conservation District’s volunteer water quality monitoring program archives to answer the question of declining lake levels. But it would take someone versed in statistics to ferret it out. Herein lies the value of collaboration by CCWC members, academics, USGS, water purveyors, Pierce Conservation District and Ecology vs. a few CCWC members pursuing their own personal agendas.
My impression having been one of those 23 year volunteer water quality monitors is that such an objective analysis of the lake level data would disclose that all the lakes monitored would show a close correlation of the beginning high in April and ending low in September water level with the quantity of precipitation that fell on the watershed in the proceeding October to March months.
The critical information needed out of such an analyses is during each year of this monitoring period how rapidly and to what extent was this drop occurring considering evaporation losses and domestic groundwater withdrawals that occurred during each year.
My impression is that such an analysis would find that there is an ever increasing rate of lake level drop during the April to September period that has occurred in the lakes of Lakewood that is related to our watershed’s development and the ever increasing demand for a precipitation driven (via recharge) limited supply of available groundwater.
I have attached photos of what is now happening regularly to Carp Lake and Waughop Lake. You are very familiar with the prolonged Clover Creek dry periods that now regularly occur.
Until we adopt a holistic approach to the challenge of our freshwater resource management this diminishing in quantity and deterioration of its quality trend will continue unabated until we suddenly realize the folly of piecemeal and independent focuses on surface water/groundwater freshwater resource mismanagement.
Groundwater fed lakes are drying out. That is not an acceptable way to maintain habitat for animals or humans. When you meet candidates for your next representatives to the Council or to the Executive’s office, please, ask how they will address this. In the meantime, I think the CWCC is starting to get rowdier too. Research will ensue and hopefully actions taken. Some were discussed Tuesday, like removal of canary reed grass and collecting bird count data. And in the for what it’s worth column, I hear shooting beavers is not illegal. That ought to rile up some people.
My photo of Nisqually Lake in May, 2023:
1 “Baby Huey is a gigantic and naïve duckling cartoon character. He was created by Martin Taras for Paramount Pictures’ Famous Studios, and became a Paramount cartoon star during the 1950s.” Wikipedia
2 Comments Add yours
My thanks to Don for his detailed findings and comments. I have felt the same thing; I monitored Clover Creek for 15 years as a volunteer w Pierce Conservation District. Was very disappointed when they disbanded the program. Consistently saw Clover Creek drier and disheartening data.
The loss of fresh water in our county has reached dangerous, irretrievable levels. Nothing can live without water – nothing. Believe it or not, even rocks require water or they turn to sand. Yet much of our precious water reserves in this county have been ruined or destroyed, due 100% to wrongly approved highest possible density development on every acre across all the land, including wetlands, streams, ponds, and aquifer recharge areas in our county, if they are in the way of profit. It has always been illegal to do that, but we have no enforcement capability here. We did under one of the past county executives, but that went away when he did. For that short time, we enjoyed the protection of our precious water. That ended when his term ended, then it was back to their destruction. I went around and around with the past PA (prosecuting attny) about this issue, his hands were tied because the county planning dept wrote all their development regulations under county codes without citing the parent State law (RCW) so cannot be enforced in the courts here. That was deliberate. Added to that was when it was confirmed to me by the White House that the GMA (growth management act) was written by the master builders of america (small caps intended) and only exists in Florida and WA. Their “act” included one small but dangerous line “deference to local government”. Folks in Thurston county, who were going through the same issue, took it to a Federal court, who ruled there is no such thing as deference to local government when it comes to the laws that protect the water resources and ordered both EPA & Ecology to start enforcing. We have yet to see that happen. Meanwhile, many laws, both Federal and State, clearly forbid destruction of water resources, but again, the losses continue here, as the approvers of all this highest possible density on every acre of land (county planning dept) ignored the court ruling, confident that they can just keep doing it without repercussion so just keep on doing it. It would take the voices of the people of this county to stop it, yet most remain silent. Why is the question. Why do you remain silent when so much is at stake? There is only so much water, then there is no more. Overdeveloping because “someone said we have to” is ridiculous, but more ridiculous is that the people here still let it go on. Lakes dry up because the water that fills them from below has been sucked out or developed over. Creating 100% impervious surface on every development site has turned the permeability of the land to cement. If no rain can get into the soils, no water can get into the groundwater reserves that also support the creeks, ponds, lakes and streams. It’s very basic. But unless more folks start paying attention and finding a voice, I assure you that one day people will turn on their taps and nothing will come out! Are you sure you want that for your families, grandchildren, great-grandchildren? Think about this very seriously, and I recommend you look at historic photos of what used to be our waterways here and what is there now. Nothing. Drying up everywhere. In the world of water science, it also remains that in order to have rain, we must have trees. The trees give off water into the air and attract the rain from the clouds (called “evapotransporation”), or rather they used to here, until we looked the other way while the mountains were logged off over and over again and all trees in the way of private profit development across our communities were lost on every development site. You know this is true. Our region used to be a temperate rain forest. Now we have no forest, no trees on any development site across our communities, little rain and it is about to become an emergency. There is no law that says you go to jail if do not build as many houses as every acre can handle no matter what is irretrievably lost. There is a law however that says you cannot destroy the water resources, though. We just don’t enforce it. It is up to the populace here to finally find a voice and say this is no longer acceptable.
Will you do that?
EPA certified Watershed Manager
no water – no life