Reader Commentary, Anacortes American, Wednesday, April 24, 2012
BY ROSS O. BARNES
The City of Anacortes’ 55 million gallons per day of continuous and 11 million gallons per day of interruptible Skagit River water rights are recognized as a principal water supply resource in Skagit County that will be increasingly called on to supply the future needs and growth of Skagit County residents and businesses.
With commendable foresight, the city took advantage of temporary inexpensive funding opportunities to rebuild its water treatment plant to technological state-of-the-art and to fully exploit the hydraulic capacity of the existing water intake structure on the Skagit River. The plant is now ready to serve the needs of water customers for the next 40 years or so.
However, Anacortes officials torpedo and submerge this “good” story with other actions and statements that demonstrate they have neither the sense of responsibility nor basic intellectual honesty to be trusted as stewards of an essential public water resource.
City Council member Cynthia Richardson’s commentary on local water issues in the March 6 American is typical of the self-serving fairy story on water promulgated by City Hall that misdirects and misinforms the public on the reality of future supply and demand issues in the Anacortes water supply system.
Ms. Richardson spins an anecdotal tale of Skagit River hydrology that, although factually correct in the narrow sense, is irrelevant to the technical and legal constraints on future water supply in Skagit County.
I can discuss here only a small sample of Anacortes’ irresponsible actions and misstatements on Skagit County water supply issues.
Skagit County has projected water supply needs and preliminary water system planning to the year 2050. This Skagit County Coordinated Water System Plan (CWSP) is part of the Anacortes Comprehensive Plan, and Anacortes is legally obliged to operate its water supply system in conformity with the long-range planning horizon and policies of the CWSP.
The current CWSP was published in 1999, which predates the severe future water supply constraints introduced by the infamous Skagit Basin In-stream Flow Rule that has spawned endless controversy and litigation between “water factions” in Skagit County. Thus, the water supply projections of the CWSP must be modified by subsequent legal developments such as the In-stream Flow Rule, which is a Washington state administrative regulation, and the state Municipal Water Law of 2003.
The distribution of future population growth in Skagit County assumed by the CWSP is not supported by current comprehensive planning in Skagit County, so water demand projections are best evaluated by combining the two principal municipal water system service areas — Anacortes and Skagit PUD — to avoid speculation on where long-term urban growth will occur in the county (this is one reason for having coordinated countywide water supply planning).
Indeed, there are multiple interties between the Anacortes and PUD water systems, and PUD is a major wholesale customer of the Anacortes water system. Also, the boundary between the two water system service areas may change in the future to achieve better balance between water supply and demand.
The In-stream Flow Rule does not contemplate increasing the existing continuous Skagit Basin water rights of the Anacortes and PUD water systems to meet future demand. This fundamental restriction on future water supply was not considered by the earlier CWSP.
To quantify the magnitude of Anacortes’ irresponsible actions and misstatements, I need to discuss a few actual numbers from the CWSP and other water planning documents.
For the year 2050, the CWSP projects a potential peak water demand in the combined Anacortes/PUD service areas of 117.8 MGD against combined Anacortes/PUD continuous Skagit Basin water supply rights of 82.5 MGD — a supply deficit of 35.3 MGD, that must be met, if at all, from raw water storage reservoirs.
PUD has a raw water storage reservoir that will allow it to fully utilize its 8.3 MGD of interruptible water rights that cannot be drawn during low-flow conditions in the water source areas that coincide with the peak demand period of late summer and early fall. The 8.3 MGD is typically not available for about one-fourth of the year, which reduces the average yearly interruptible draw to 6.3 MGD and the peak demand deficit to 29 MGD versus averaged water rights.
Anacortes has no significant raw water storage capacity, so the future utility of its 11 MGD of interruptible water to meet dry season peak demand is unknown. Against this serious peak demand deficit, the CWSP projects and allocates a total of 21 MGD of industrial water use for the whole of Skagit County to the year 2050 — 16 MGD to Anacortes and 5 MGD to PUD.
But as stated above, all of this water may not actually be available, or may have to be “taken” from other users during periods of peak demand. In spite of the county water supply deficits projected in the Anacortes Comprehensive Plan, Anacortes signed a contract with Tethys Enterprises to supply up to 5.5 MGD of new industrial water out to 2050. Combined with the existing 12.9 MGD of water used by Shell and Tesoro refineries, the Tethys contract alone brings the large industrial water use in the Anacortes system to 18.4 MGD or 2.4 MGD greater than Anacortes’ projected industrial allocation in the CWSP.
The Tethys contract also uses up all of the 1 MGD of new industrial water use allocated to the rest of Skagit County through the PUD, plus another 1.4 MGD.
In summary, Anacortes (1) ignores the long-range water demand/supply forecasts of its own comprehensive water planning documents that project serious potential water supply deficits by 2050 in Skagit County, (2) contracts to give all of the projected new industrial water supply for all of Skagit County, plus more, to one new industrial customer, and (3) requires that all of that overallocated water be delivered within Anacortes city limits.
And then Anacortes complains that increasing numbers of Skagit County residents and their government representatives are antagonistic to Anacortes’ shortsighted actions and continuous misstatements with respect to county water supply issues that will affect everyone and every business and community in Skagit County.
A more detailed discussion of the quantitative water supply and demand projections for Skagit County, including graphical presentations, can be found at www.evergreenislands.org under the title City of Anacortes Petition to Modify UGA Boundary, posted January 29, 2013.
Editor’s note: After receiving Mr. Barnes’ letter, the American asked Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer for a city perspective on future water supplies