Pollution Migration to Aquifer

Stevenson’s 2017 review and update began with Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas or CARAs.  Aquifers store groundwater.  This groundwater becomes exceptionally important when it is accessed by people and used for drinking water.  Preventing the pollution of aquifers saves lives.  Polluted aquifers are impossible or very expensive to clean-up, and an ounce of prevention today is worth more than the multiple millions of pounds (or dollars) expended by private landowners and public agencies when pollution occurs.  Just ask the citizens of Tumwater, WA.

Past Regulations

Stevenson’s regulations seek to stop that before it starts.  The 2003 CARA Regulations had a limited coverage area of 100’ from private and public wells and springs, however, the CARA map associated with the regulations only identified 1 public water well.  The list of regulated development types within those areas was also limited, applying only to landfills/junkyards, aboveground and underground hazardous waste storage tanks, septic systems, and the keeping of livestock.  Proposals for such developments were then required to perform Hydrogeologic Testing and Site Evaluation and to submit a mitigation plan if any degradation of groundwater quality or quantity was expected.

Unfortunately, the limited coverage area and limited applicability of these regulations left an unacceptable potential for contamination of drinking water resources, the sources of which often originate much farther away than 100’ from the wellhead.  Stevenson’s 2008 CARA Regulations responded to the limited coverage and applicability of the earlier regulations by expanding the coverage to a citywide basis, and allowing individual property owners to provide analyses of the susceptibility and vulnerability of groundwater under their land.  This update also expanded the list of development types subject to the regulations.  Now, all proposals handling hazardous materials “in applications or quantities larger than is typical of household use” are required to rate their potential for pollution of groundwater at their site.  After performing such analyses, the owners having both susceptible groundwaters and a high potential for polluting those waters are required to meet general and specific performance standards as part of their operation.

2017 Review & Amendment Process

To evaluate the City’s current approach, staff sought guidance from Laurie Morgan with the Washington Department of Ecology.  Ms. Morgan literally wrote the book on Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas in the state, and helped frame Stevenson’s discussion through a presentation about groundwater wells, potential contaminants, and the likely movement of groundwater in our area.  She also provided several guidance documents from other communities, highlighting the City’s need to preserve our authority to act when pollution is occurring.  With her help, Planning Department staff identified how local and model communities are protecting their groundwaters, and multiple City departments were invited to evaluate whether a better approach could be pursued.