Sometimes it just takes guts, not money, to do the right thing for salmon.

The Squaxin Island Tribe recently asked the state Department of Ecology to do the right thing for salmon on Johns Creek near Shelton. They asked the state to stop the explosion of new wells being drilled in the watershed just long enough to find out just how much water is available.
 
And for the second year in a row the tribe was told by Ecology that the state couldn’t do the right thing because it doesn’t have the money. That’s a shame.

The tribe points out that summer flows in Johns Creek already are too low to support a weak run of wild summer chum salmon. In just the past 20 years more than 200 wells that are largely exempt from state regulation have been drilled in the Johns Creek watershed.

Anyone can drill a permit-exempt well without first having to prove there’s actually any water available. The only restriction is a 5,000 gallons per day limit. Decades ago these types of wells were intended to give homeowners and other low volume users easier access to water. But today those wells number in the thousands in western Washington and more are being drilled all the time. The tribe’s petitions were based on a state law that closes well drilling in a watershed if there isn’t enough information to figure out if water is legally available.
 
I don’t understand how the state can allow all of those wells to be drilled without knowing how much water is available to begin with. We are on a path to dry up Johns Creek.

The question is how the wells and the creek are connected. The answer is a $300,000 study that the state claims it doesn’t have the money or the people for.

There’s some truth in that. The natural resources portion of the state budget has taken huge hits in the last few years. While making up only 2 percent of the entire state budget, natural resources management has taken the largest cut of any sector of state government.

It doesn’t cost anything to put a moratorium on new wells until we can find out how much water is really available. In the meantime no one is suggesting that Johns Creek watershed residents stop pumping water.
 
The tribe has appealed the agency’s decision to Gov. Gregoire. We hope she’s listening. 
 
Money isn’t the issue here, it’s courage. The courage to do the right thing and the wisdom to at least slow down so that we can see the road ahead.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

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For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, (360) 438-1180