Successful Squaxin Appeal Protects Streamflows For Salmon

LACEY (October 20, 2006) – A proposal to use groundwater to compensate for the impacts of new wells near Woodland and Fox Creeks was rejected by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board. The ruling upheld an appeal by the Squaxin Island Tribe, challenging two Department of Ecology water right permits, allowing Miller Land and Timber LLC to drill two wells in the Woodland Creek watershed.

The hearings board said that in this case, state law does not permit adverse impacts to streamflows necessary for the preservation of fish and wildlife species.

“Woodland and Fox Creeks do not have enough water for salmon in the summer,” said Scott Steltzner, fisheries biologist for the tribe. The Miller proposal called for drilling two wells to service a pair of housing developments with 61 lots. One of the wells would pump additional groundwater directly into Fox Creek, as an attempt to mitigate the domestic withdrawal’s streamflow impacts.

The board found that in this case the technique would not compensate for lower streamflows caused by the domestic use. It would only “recycle” water already destined to enter the stream. “Because the creek’s flow is naturally connected to the groundwater supply, the plan provided no net benefit to streamflow or salmon,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the tribe.

“The pumping of groundwater for streamflow augmentation therefore becomes a consumptive use itself because a significant portion of the groundwater captured by the pumping would have flowed into the surface water of Woodland Creek,” the hearings board said in its ruling.

“They were proposing to take money out of one pocket and put it in another” said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director for the tribe. The Woodland Creek basin was closed in 1980 to new water withdrawals because it had reached its limit in being able to meet the water needs of both people and fish.

The board found the tribe’s science more credible in helping them make their decision. Miller modeled the water resources in the watershed in 200 acre chunks, while the tribe’s view was much more refined. “We were able to look at the situation 1/4 acre at a time to better mimic the natural system,” said Nadine Romero, hydrogeologist for the tribe. “It isn’t surprising then that Squaxin came to a different conclusion than Miller.”

Sections of Woodland Creek regularly run dry during the summer. Lake Lois, for example, had been important habitat for salmon and trout until recent decades when its water levels began to drop significantly or it completely dried up during the summer. The tribe points to the large number of exempt wells in the area as a culprit.

Historically, the Woodland Creek watershed produced strong populations of coho salmon. “There are accounts of salmon going as far up as Long Lake, in the far reaches of the watershed,” said Steltzner. “Coho salmon often spend an extra year or two in freshwater as juveniles. Without these small lakes and wetlands coho have nowhere to survive and feed during that extra year in freshwater.”

“Because we have always depended on salmon, the Squaxin Island Tribe is interested in the protection of salmon habitat,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director of the Squaxin Island Tribe. “Every piece of creek, small or big, is important to salmon, so it’s important to us.”


For more information, contact: John Konovsky, environmental program manager, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3804. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, [email protected]