Guemes Island water rights

Sally Stapp waters her garden July 9, 2019, with rainwater she captured from roof-top runoff at her Guemes Island home.

Skagit County staff are recommending against making changes to county planning code that would relax restrictions on using rainwater as a primary water source on Guemes Island.

In a report prepared by the county Planning and Development Services Department, staff recommend the county commissioners oppose two proposed amendments to the county comprehensive plan that concern Guemes Island water, and instead suggest tweaks or re-interpretations of existing code.

Responding to the increasing threats of limited groundwater and of seawater intrusion in wells, members of the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee proposed amendments to relax regulations on using rainwater as a domestic water source, and to enforce existing code that requires pre-approval to dig new wells.

The Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee is disappointed in the staff recommendations, but is optimistic some progress on water issues can still be made.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve been at it for four years and we haven’t gotten everything we wanted,” said Hal Rooks, president of the committee. “But it’s not totally dead in the water, I don’t think.”

County policy on rainwater catchment systems requires review from an engineer, something Rooks and others were seeking to remove through their proposed amendments.

This requirement, he said, can add at least $5,000 to the cost of a system and isn’t necessary to ensure the safety of a system.

Michael Cerbone, long-range planner with the county, said he doesn’t see that requirement being removed from county code anytime soon. He said engineer review is the only realistic way for the county to ensure a rainwater system is safe.

His recommendation is to produce a guidance document with more information on getting permits for rainwater catchment, according to the staff report.

The Guemes residents’ other proposal asked the county to enforce existing regulations on digging new wells on the island, something the committee believes isn’t happening.

Cerbone said his recommendation is to review existing building code and issue a new interpretation that may clear up any misunderstandings.

He said he understands his recommendations don’t satisfy the requests from the Guemes committee, but said it “moves them further down that path.”

The county is collecting public comment on these and other proposed comprehensive plan amendments until Jan. 24 at

The Skagit County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21.

— Reporter Brandon Stone:, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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