Permit-exempt wells have proliferated across watersheds that are supposed to be closed to new water withdrawals. No proof of water availability is necessary to put these wells in the ground.

According to the recently released State of Our Watersheds Report by the treaty tribes in western Washington, these wells have grown too fast in the Squaxin Island Tribe’s treaty-reserved fishing area. Despite the economy slowing between 2010 and 2014, 259 new permit-exempt wells began withdrawing water in deep South Sound.

Those wells were dug in watersheds that need protection for salmon. From the report:

Available stream gauge data suggests that all listed streams, for most periods of time since at least the 1980s, fail to meet statutory minimum flows in both winter and summer in WRIA 14.

Though each well is small, taken together, they can have a massive impact:

One cause of these insufficient flows is the dramatic increase in the number of water wells constructed in the last 30 years. State law allows new wells to withdraw groundwater up to 5,000 gallons/day without obtaining a permit that would require scientific evidence that water is legally available…. Although the water volume a single exempt well uses is small, the cumulative effect of wells in close proximity can be significant. Exempt groundwater withdrawals don’t require a water right permit but they are always subject to state water law.